Tis the season for materials handling to give back
Like most people in the industry, when I think of materials handling and information technology, I think about speeding the right product to the right customer at the right time.
What happens if that customer – the recipient of the goods coming out of a distribution center – is one of the underprivileged? Can materials handling solutions and supply chain execution technology make a difference to those in need? That’s a question we looked at in July 2009 in a story on the Greater Boston Food Bank’s new 117,000 sq ft LEED-certified distribution center.
The answer then was yes, and in some impressive ways. I recently came across two more examples of materials handling doing good that I’d like to share during this holiday week.
The first involves Sue Kutz, 58, a community volunteer and advocate for hungry children in Rock Hill, South Carolina. She is one of the driving forces behind Back The Pack, a program that provides nutritious food on weekends to elementary school children who would otherwise go hungry. Regular readers of Modern will recognize Rock Hill as home to the Don Frazier Supply Chain Training Center at the Applied Tech Center, a program largely funded by the materials handling industry that is training high school students for careers in our industry.
Back in the summer of 2008, Kutz says she was your basic suburban Mom when she had a conversation with her school superintendent. “She told me that 53% of our students are on free or reduced price lunch plans at the school,” says Kutz. While that was a surprise, the real shocker was that 1 in 17 students in the district - somewhere between 1,100 and 1,200 children - had little or no food to eat on the weekends.
“I remember talking to my family at dinner that night and we decided to do something to help,” Kutz says.
From that initial conversation, Kutz helped launch Back The Pack in the fall of 2008. At need students are identified as candidates for the program by counselors, teachers and nurses who know the students. With the permission of parents, bags of food are discretely delivered to the students; the most common way to do that is to slip them in the kids’ book bags while they’re at recess or lunch. That way, their classmates don’t know they’re the recipient of charity. Presently, the program is serving about 650 elementary and middle school kids week in and week out.
Now for the materials handling connection. With a mini distribution center and a group of students eager to learn about order fulfillment, Back The Pack is using the resources of the Frazier program to fill the orders. Each week, the warehouse distribution class receives items for distribution from a food wholesaler; additional items are donated by civic groups and individuals. As with any other food warehouse, the food items have to be checked for an expiration date before they’re put away in a horizontal carousel system.
When it comes time to fill orders, students pick items to a plastic zip lock baggy. Typically, they’re picking eight food items and two juice boxes – the menus are devised by the school nurses for nutritional value and for ease of preparation by the students. The kitted bags are then placed in bins destined for individual schools. Once the bins are complete, they’re picked up by a courier from the district and delivered to a school.
With the help of materials handling, the program is making a difference in the lives of the students in Rock Hill. As a result, Kutz was one of ten finalists who recently traveled to New York as part of L’Oreal’s fifth annual “Women of Worth” celebration. The cosmetic company is donating $5,000 to the Back The Pack program.
“I was thrilled by the donation because it will make a huge difference to the program,” Kutz told me before the ceremony. “On a personal note, I really hope this makes other people think about whether their own communities can do this. If it’s happening in Rock Hill, I know this problem exists across this country.”
Since Kutz has logged her fair share of time with the students in the Frazier Center filling orders, I wondered how she feels about a career in distribution?
“I have a new insight and deep respect for the importance that distribution plays in delivering the product to the end user and in this case it’s a hungry child,” she told me. “And I think it’s great that the kids are learning about warehouse distribution, and they’re also learning about community service too.”
Later this week, I’ll share a story about a good Samaritan using a WMS system to distribute shoes to the shoeless.