A distance of 580 kilometres separates the food banks in Stettler, Alberta and Humboldt, Saskatchewan, yet both places share a common link.
They are among the 35% of food banks housed in rural and remote communities across the nation.
Being in a region that is geographically isolated can mean dealing with a totally unique set of challenges—specifically when it comes to a lack of visibility and resources. That’s where technology can play a vital role in helping smaller food banks to be seen and heard.
However, for many of these food banks, technology was either never a priority, or in the budget.
“We’re in a fairly new building that’s been wired for Internet,” explains Maria Leonard, volunteer treasurer at the Humboldt and District Food Bank Society. “But up until recently, we didn’t have the funds for a computer, let alone the Internet. So, we simply handled all of our data entry by hand, which wasn’t very efficient in hindsight. In our search for a more modern system of keeping track of client information, we learned about Link2Feed. That was pretty much the impetus for us to make the change. Thanks to the Rural Technology Fund through Food Banks Canada, we were able to afford to make that change.”
Maria Leonard, volunteer treasurer at the Humboldt and District Food Bank Society
Made possible by donors, such as Syngenta and Farm Credit Canada, the Rural Technology Fund also helped the Stettler and District Food Bank Society make a similar switch.
“We received the Rural Technology Fund,” states Mark Higgins, vice chair of the board for the Stettler and District Food Bank Society. “The grant covered the purchase of our laptop and accessories, and it also covered Link2Feed licensing for the year. Besides being beyond thankful for the money, we also appreciate the fact that the application process was quite simple—as applying for some grants can be like pulling teeth.”
Now that the technology is in place, both Mark and Maria are already noticing the benefits.
“Doing paperwork was always such a hassle,” recalls Maria. “Volunteers were either searching for or completely re-entering client information every time they came in. When there’s a family consisting of 7 or 8 individuals, that’s a lot of information to take down—especially when you’ve got a line up of people that you’re trying to get through as quickly as possible. With Link2Feed, however, we’re now much faster with our client intake process.”
Mark Higgins agrees, “Before Link2Feed, our volunteers would spend roughly 10 to 12 hours entering and updating client information every month. With 40 to 50 volunteers all doing client intake, the old system made it a little challenging to keep track of everything. With Link2Feed, administration time has been significantly reduced, making client intake fast and efficient.”
Mark Higgins, vice chair of the board for the Stettler and District Food Bank Society
Both food bankers also value the type of information that Link2Feed enables them to capture.
Maria elaborates, “Nowadays, more and more people have various types of food allergies or dietary concerns. Now that we’re using Link2Feed, we can enter all of that information once to ensure that we have the appropriate food on hand without them having to tell us every time they come in. In many ways, I would say that Link2Feed is helping us to better know our clients. And the more knowledgeable we are about their needs, the more relaxed they (the clients) seem to be. It makes a big difference.”
Mark particularly appreciates the reporting functionality that Link2Feed provides.
“Food Banks Alberta has a mandate for all food banks in their provincial network to be on Link2Feed,” explains Mark. “The main driver for this being to capture data that can then be contributed to the national HungerCount—which, before Link2Feed, took up quite a bit of time to put together. Now those types of reports can be done as simple as the touch of a button. Plus I like the fact that every time we log in (to Link2Feed), the ‘users per month graph’ shows us how many client visits we’ve had. We’ve already noticed a trend, which will enable us to be more accurate with our budget going forward. Whereas before, our spending was more of a crapshoot.”
Maria also offers a completely unique perspective on why smaller food banks may want to embrace the important shift to technology.
“As our volunteer base ages, there is a need to start thinking about how to attract younger people to get involved with the food bank,” says Maria. “Not only do they know how to use technology, they’ve come to expect it. So, if rural food banks are to keep volunteerism alive amongst the younger generation, then we all better start making the transition—the sooner, the better.”
For any food banks that may be a little anxious about making that transition, Maria and Mark have some advice.
“Just go for it,” exclaims Mark. “I don’t think client intake could be any easier or more secure than it is now that we’re using Link2Feed. Plus the onboarding we received from the L2F team and Marni at Food Banks Canada made the entire process super easy.” Maria echoes that sentiment, “Besides its ease of use, think of technology as a way for your food bank to inspire change. Data has the power to tear down the walls of misconception surrounding what it means to be food insecure in Canada. By adding your voice to the national conversation (by contributing data through Link2Feed), perhaps we can collectively come up with solutions to end food insecurity, once and for all.”
Using the power of data, Link2Feed is a national movement bringing food bankers together to identify the root causes of poverty — ultimately working toward a Canada where nobody goes hungry. Approximately 60% of food banks across the country are already using this innovative, cloud-based software for client intake. Food Banks Canada is working to expand the use of the Link2Feed across the Canadian food bank network.
Click here to learn more about Link2Feed or reach out to Marni Wolf: firstname.lastname@example.org