A byte of new technology is helping manage the food needs of families assisted by Restore Hope Ministries in Tulsa.
A new application lets caseworkers enter food selections on a computer tablet, then electronically submit the selections to the agency’s food pantry. The program adjusts the order for family size, formats an order sheet for warehouse staff and volunteers, and updates the inventory
"Each client meets privately with a caseworker to look over the menu of options and make their selections. By offering a choice, we not only give good food, we also offer dignity and hope," said Jeff Jaynes, executive director.
The app was developed with the help of Chris Ruddell, associate pastor of Edmond-Connect UMC.
Restore Hope started using the app in October. Rev. Jaynes has noticed a reduction in paper usage, and orders are filled faster.
The program also allows Restore Hope’s food manager to quickly update supply data as new donations arrive or when stock is depleted. If a donation of milk comes in, it’s easily added to the list of choices. Once that supply is gone, it drops off the list.
In 2013, after 34 years of distributing groceries to families in financial crisis, Restore Hope transitioned from a basic food pantry to a pantry of choice.
"Giving food is a great thing, but when you don’t offer choice, you may give food to families that they may not know how to make or may not eat for other reasons," Jaynes said.
With the app, "we’ve been able to refine the kinds of food we stock to meet the needs of our client families. We have also been able to focus on the health and wellness of those families, by offering more fruits and vegetables and removing items with high sugar or sodium content."
This focus on clients is why Restore Hope moved to offer choice in the first place. The families who visit Restore Hope appreciate it.
"You treated me with respect and professionalism instead of as a ‘less-than’ needy person, which honestly is what I was expecting," wrote Donna, whose family received assistance when her husband lost his job. "You showed me dignity and God’s love, and for that I will be eternally grateful."
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Ben Jaynes, case manager Amanda Faith, and chapel intern Tracey Ivy fill carts with food chosen moments earlier using a computer app at Restore Hope in Tulsa.
Volunteer Winnie Mansfield uses the app to submit a family’s choices.
Photos by Michelle Reagor