Today, more than 600,000 Canadian children and their families live in poverty. In Ottawa, the country's capital city, the Ottawa Food Bank (OFB) is one of the key agents in the fight against hunger, providing groceries for families, breakfast for children before school, and hot meals at shelters. OFB agencies serve 43,000 Ottawa residents a month, and 40 percent of those served are children.
On average, the Ottawa Food Bank distributes 14 tons of food every working day. OFB funds less than 10 percent of its operating costs with government money – it relies almost exclusively on community support, and each dollar donated to the Ottawa Food Bank generates $5 worth of groceries into the community. OFB is able to accomplish its work through its associations with member agencies throughout the city – Community Food Banks, Food Cupboards, meal programs, Multi-Service Programs, KickStart After 4 Club programs and KickStart Breakfast programs.
Looking to the future, the OFB knows it can better serve Ottawa’s needy by finding more wholesome foods to distribute to its constituents, and finding ways to improve its infrastructure, data management and reporting – all goals that are being carried out with the expertise of IBM volunteers working on a project funded by an IBM Catalyst Grant.
In Ottawa, Aly Mawani helps IBM volunteers dig in the dirt – and streamline a food bank’s operations.
“This was an ideal opportunity for us to make a difference and fulfill our intent of doing something for the local community,” says Senior Manager for Business Analytics Americas Customer Support, Aly Mawani, one of the co-service leaders on the project. “It is always rewarding to know that your skills can be transferred outside of the workplace and into a real grassroots environment like the Ottawa Food Bank. This type of work instills a strong sense of pride in our city and the outstanding work being done by the good people at the Ottawa Food Bank.”
IBM Customer Support Team Leader Peter Nightingale is Aly's co-service leader and tactical leader for the two-tiered project. The first tier of the project took place from June to October in 2011 and 100 IBM employees volunteered 8 hours each at the Roots and Shoots Farm, which has earmarked a portion of its land – an acre of potatoes, carrots and onions - for donation to OFB. Most of the volunteers rolled up their sleeves and helped rake the fields, plant seeds, weed and harvest. This effort is part of Community Harvest Ontario, a new program that engages the province's farms, volunteers, and food banks in innovative projects in order to work towards a hunger-free Ontario. There are plans currently underway to make this an annual event.
The project’s second tier will utilize the project management and technical skills of more than 20 IBM volunteers to develop a volunteer tracking system, automate many processes that are currently performed manually, and more efficiently and intelligently assign volunteers to tasks and jobs for OFB. Key contributors in this aspect of the project are Youssef Miri, Chris Shepherd and Andrew Stalker. The application is projected to go live later this year.
The ultimate goal of the project is to provide more nutritious food to individuals in need in Ottawa through the work of IBM volunteers performing field labor at the Roots and Shoots Farm, the increasing visibility of the Community Harvest Program, and the Volunteer Tracking System, which will free up the time of OFB employees to work smarter, not harder.
“The impact of this project did not fully manifest itself until we visited the Ottawa Food Bank and witnessed the tremendous gratitude of staff after presenting the new volunteer tracking system,” says Aly. “To really appreciate how automation and technology can significantly alter how we work is remarkable. It does make you wonder how many other organizations could benefit from the vast array of skills we possess within IBM.”