The Houston Food Bank
The Houston Food Bank has an
advanced way for volunteer recruitment that takes place via the internet. This
system is part of the organization’s recent move to their newly-constructed
compound located at 535 Portwall Street. Both the volunteer recruitment system
and their new buildings were primary enticements, because they seemed to be
highly efficient ways to attract volunteers and dispense food to those in need.
More specifically, I chose to spend most of my time at the Keegan Kitchen
volunteering for the “Kids Café,” assisting in meal preparation prior to their
being delivered to various community agencies participating in the program.
This choice was based on seeing first-hand how a large-scale operation of this
kind adequately feeds visitors and to explore as much of the new compound as
was permissible. I volunteered for a four-hour morning shift, which was the
period that meals were provided to the children, the afternoon shift only
involved cleaning the kitchen environment in preparation for the next day.
The Houston Food Bank first opened
its doors in 1982 and has since grown to become the country’s largest
distributor of food items to a network of hunger relief agencies estimated to
currently be 600 located in 18 counties in southeastern Texas. The food bank
claims to have provided 83 million meals to its various partners who then have
fed approximately 800,000 individuals per year. The list of donated food items
includes packaged and canned foods, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. The
majority is reserved for the numerous outlying agencies, but a large percentage
remains onsite in order to package emergency provisions for people who are
employed but cannot afford to buy their own food, and for teachers who visit
the food bank in order to provide sustenance for their students. Other services
include a senior food box program, nutrition education, and a client assistance
program. The Kids Café is part of a larger national program started by the
nonprofit Feeding America of the same name, and one of various programs helping
children receive the nutrition they require and deserve.
To become a volunteer, it is first
necessary to visit the Houston Food Bank website at http://www.houstonfoodbank.org and then follow the link at the
top of the page marked “Volunteer.” Then going to the “Keegan page,”
individuals are provided with the opportunity of choosing which days and times
they prefer to work. From this page, prospective volunteers then link to the
“Volunteer Opportunities Calendar” where they can find out more information
about the work. In my specific case, I volunteered for morning hours at the
Keegan kitchen, located at their new warehouse. By pressing on the specific day
for volunteering, a popup appears that provides the needed information
pertaining to date, location, time and job duties. Another popup emerges after pressing
the link marked “individuals” at the bottom, which will begin the process to
sign up. While this process seems complex, I think it is ideal for people who
have little time in their daily schedules to phone or visit the agency. Signing
up can, and does, occur after normal business hours, making it convenient for
people in the comfort of their homes.
The new facility is very impressive.
It houses the food bank’s various programs and the warehouse where all food
donations are handled is extremely large. The Keegan kitchen is located within
the warehouse, and I found it to be relatively small and cramped. However,
throughout the course of my shift the kitchen seemed to operate from the
standpoint of organized chaos, not unlike kitchens seen at restaurants. I was
initially tasked with cleaning vegetables and sorting out anything that smelled
or appeared rotten. Regardless of the size of the kitchen, and the fact that it
seemed overcrowded, the volunteers I worked with were diligent and focused.
Staff was extremely friendly and generous with their time, something that I
believe created a harmonious environment that people would enjoy being in. The
pace was quite rapid, which I thought was similar to any production environment.
It was also similar to any assembly line, where people are tasked with one
responsibility and when complete an item, or in this case, food item, moves to
the next for further preparation.
I then moved to a line that placed
the food in containers. The containers were the same as those used for frozen
dinners and they are lined on a counter resting in front of cooked food items
ready to be packaged. This process seemed more familiar as it shared
similarities with being at a cafeteria. The staff recognizes, and appreciates,
that the food being prepared in their kitchen is for children, and they make
every attempt to accommodate young tastes. On the menu for this day was chicken
filets, potatoes and a vegetable. Whether this is acceptable to children
remains to be seen, but it is more nutritious than eating a breakfast filled
with starches, or having no breakfast at all. The four hours passed very
quickly, and before leaving the compound I visited the part of the warehouse
where food items are inspected and separated before they are shipped to other
agencies. My day at the Huston Food Bank was very rewarding and an experience
worth doing in the future. The new facilities are ultra-modern and built for
efficiency, especially the warehouse operation where the flow of work was
expedited through intelligent design and engineering.