A Well-Oiled Machine

The story behind the cans of Food Lion Hunger Relief Day.

By Charlie Hale, Vice President of IT & Operations

It’s the second Thursday of the NC State Fair and you are pumped to enjoy a beautiful day of family fun at a discounted price. You park your car and grab your bag filled with canned goods for the Food Bank. As you approach the gate with your family, a smiling volunteer reaches for your bag, thanks you for your donation, and a Fair worker hands you your admission ticket.

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Pause. Rewind. Let’s back it up a bit.

It’s October 16. One week before Hunger Relief Day at the NC State Fair in Raleigh. Our Raleigh Branch Warehouse Supervisor thoughtfully walks up and down the aisles, looking at the food on our shelves and figuring out how to make more room. Because in just one week, he’ll need to pack well over 100,000 more pounds into this distribution center alone.

Our volunteer services team is busy in their offices, looking at maps of the fairgrounds and confirming volunteer assignments at specific times and gates. For the volunteers, Hunger Relief Day is split into five hour shifts with anywhere between 20 and 75 volunteers at 10 different gates throughout the day.

Our special events team is exchanging emails with the State Fair to make sure we know where our trucks should park and to help coordinate publicity of the effort. Our operations team confirms with Food Lion the trucking support we’ll need on that day.

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The day before Food Lion Hunger Relief Day, the drivers at all of our branches prepare the trucks. They load them up with bins and pallets, a portable staircase to make it easy for volunteers to place donations in the trailer, coolers filled with water, and boxes filled with snacks. Drivers from DurhamSandhills, Greenville, New Bern, and Wilmington travel to Raleigh and many spend the night.

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We’ve coordinated Hunger Relief Day at the State Fair for 21 years. By now, it’s a well-oiled machine. The logistics have been drilled down to a science, and it’s well-known throughout the community. But what does it take to pull off such a large operation? Here are the nuts and bolts:

  • 13 Food Bank trucks and drivers
  • 4 Food Lion 53-foot tractor trailers
  • Over 40 Food Bank staff members from all 6 branches
  • 465 volunteers to cover 10 gates throughout the day, resulting in 2,700 volunteer hours

As we say at the Food Bank: It takes a village to run Food Lion Hunger Relief Day! And by now, as long as the weather cooperates, everything tends to run smoothly with few surprises.

Our drivers begin the day by meeting at the Raleigh Branch at 6:00 am sharp and caravan to the fairgrounds. Additionally, four trailers provided by Food Lion help store donations, arriving separately at about 5:30 am to park at gates A, B, and 9. After a brief meeting at Gate 10 at 7:00 am, staff set off to work the gates, orienting volunteers, troubleshooting when needed, and enjoying the day.

But still, over the years, the biggest challenge of this event is what we call “the changing of the trucks.” For our drivers, the day is divided into two shifts: 6:00 am – 2:00 pm and 2:00 pm – 10:00 pm. When the afternoon drivers come to relieve the morning drivers, several things have to happen. First, the morning drivers monitor their truck as it fills up with donations. We want every driver, especially those from our branches, to return with a full truck of food. If the truck is not full, the driver will go to another gate and donations will be transferred from another truck. We especially want each branch to leave with a full truck in order to ensure that we spread donations from the Fair to all of our 34 counties and the regions served by our sister food banks as well. With a goal of collecting over a quarter of a million pounds, almost every truck will leave the fairgrounds full, towing 13,000 pounds of food.

“The changing of the trucks” at one of the gates last year.

This year, we do have one advantageous change. In years past, this event usually tied up all of our transportation resources, with every available truck at the fairgrounds to collect food from our donors. But this year, for the first time ever thanks to a generous donation from Food Lion, we will be able to have two Retail Recovery trucks and drivers at our Raleigh Branch continue their normal operations.

Still, most things remain the same. In the early morning hours when the stars still shine and one can barely make out a silhouette of tents, rides, and the big Ferris wheel, excitement will build as the trucks rumble down the dirt paths on the way to their gates. Our staff will gather over breakfast and coffee to talk about the day’s plan. It will be a short talk—We know we’ve got this. We’ll walk to our gates to greet our eager volunteers, and wait to see the first smiling face hand over that bag of cans to help a family in need and enjoy a beautiful day at the Fair.

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Thanks so much to the wonderful volunteers and donors that make Food Lion Hunger Relief Day a great success! See y’all tomorrow!

 

This post is the final segment of a three-part series on transportation leading up to Food Lion Hunger Relief Day at the NC State Fair, a day where the hard work of our trucks and drivers truly shines. Catch all of the action at the Fair by following us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Also be sure to check out The Road to the Dinner Table for an overview of our fleet, and On the Road with Manny to follow one of our drivers on his route.