Special Inventory and Logistics

Anyone who has ever visited our hub in Richmond Hill, Queens, already knows that space is extremely limited. Executives at the major partner organizations that work with us repeatedly express their amazement at our ability to channel an average of 25 tons of product per week though our small facility.

Most of this volume is consumed by our programs within a week or two of arrival. This is not surprising: Some 700 families receive their groceries every week from our on-site Client Choice Pantry and more than 25,000 people per month get food through our Mobile Operations.

We developed our mobile expertise over 20 years of operating truck-based pantries; and we were rewarded for this pioneering effort when, in February 2012, we became the very first organization in the United States to receive specific accreditation for a mobile pantry under the federal Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP).

Our persistence in getting the door open for mobile pantries to receive HPNAP support has already benefitted numerous communities nationwide—and it made a tremendous difference in the aftermath of Hyperstorm Sandy when many other NYC-based Hunger Relief Organizations were able to follow our lead and launch their own mobile pantry programs. The huge need in the flood zones could not have been addressed without this swing toward the implementation of mobile operations that took place in every part of New York’s hunger response network!

Of course, The River Fund was the very first Emergency Food Relief Organization (EFRO) on the ground behind Sandy—within 24 hours of the storm. From our very first sortie into the flood zones, The River Fund provided not just a week’s worth of groceries to the devastated households, but toilet paper, baby supplies and pet-food. Since supplies of these products are particularly difficult to obtain, for us they have always been considered “Special Inventory.”

During the second week of our work throughout The Rockaways, Coney Island and Howard Beach, our support for the affected families and seniors expanded to include diapers, blankets, vitamins, hygiene kits and various paper-goods. Further, as the winter became more severe, we distributed thousands of gloves, hats, scarves and coats. By week four, with help from Feed the Children, we were also able to access large quantities of cleaning supplies for the stricken neighborhoods.

Although we have always handled Special Inventory items and made them available to our clients in need, our management of such products has changed dramatically since October 2012: In the past, given the small quantities and unpredictable nature of the supply, we could treat Special Inventory in the same manner as we deal with our food stocks—cycling it rapidly through our facility within a week or two. The only exceptions to this rule were the toys for our Xmas Gift-Giving programs and the school supplies and backpacks for our Back-to-School Giveaway events.

By cultivating relationships with supportive businesses in the community, we were always able to find donated warehouse space to support our storage of those special-event items. These and other businesses also rallied to help us with our logistics after Sandy, so the expanded throughput did not result in overwhelming storage expenses for us. However, over the past several months it has become clear that we need to establish a more permanent solution for our Special Inventory—one giving us better control over the longer throughput cycles and the targeted distribution that would make these items more meaningful in the lives of our clients.

To address this issue, as of September 1, 2013, The River Fund took on an additional 1,000 square feet of indoor, secure storage space on a permanent basis. This space is dedicated to Special Inventory and allows us much more effective distribution of products like toilet paper, baby supplies, pet-food, diapers, vitamins, hygiene products, paper-towels, coats, gloves, hats and scarves. It also helps us to manage our toys and back-to-school supplies more efficiently.

We are now able to control supplies of diapers and other baby products for longer periods of time, so that our support in this area for families with infants can have fewer gaps. Lonely seniors in particular, many of whom depend on pets for companionship, appreciate our ability to target the distribution of pet-food more efficiently; and specialty vitamins, like products for lactating mothers, or compound-supplements for the vision-impaired can be channeled in a more scheduled manner to those who really need them.

It all adds up to a substantial expansion of our impact on those who depend on us to develop creative approaches to supporting them in areas where they cannot support themselves. Needless to say, this new storage space is an ongoing expense for our Logistics Operations; but, with the support of our loyal donors, we have been able to sustain this fine-tuning of our stock-management system that significantly increases our relevance in the lives of needy families and seniors.

Perhaps you can make a special recurring donation directly towards our Mobile Operations and Logistics to help deal with the monthly cost associated with this aspect of our work. If so, please click here.

Our Logistics Partners were invaluable after SandyOne of the trucks we used after Sandy, loading up at one of three off-site warehouses we used during the immediate disaster response.

One of our Sandy Response ConvoysOne of our Sandy Zone Convoys—a total of four trucks and two vans. Without the support of our Logistics partners, warehousing the volume needed for activities like this would not have been possible...

Backpack for our Back-to-School Program... nor would we have been able, over the years, to handle the long-term storage of bulky items needed for our annual special events—like our Back-to-School Giveaway and similar projects.

Our very first Sandy Care PackThe care pack from our first sortie into Coney Island behind Sandy—with toilet paper, baby wipes, children's vitamins and pet food. More than 1,000 families got them...

Our first Sandy Care Pack in a bag... and making the care pack easy to take home was an important consideration.

Blankets were critical after SandyWe soon added blankets to our distributions in the flood zones: More than two tractor-trailers full.

Hygiene Kits from World VisionHygiene Kits provided immediate relief to families just after the storm....

Hygiene Supplies in larger quantities...but soon larger quantities of these items were needed: Toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant, sanitary napkins—more than just a hygiene kit.

Baby food is expensive and hard to getWe also kept following up through our Satellite Sites with much more baby food and other infant-care products...

Toilet Paper and other essentials... and more toilet paper... and more vitamins...

Nike Sneaker GiveawayOf course, our Special Inventory includes the really special items we get from time to time—like Nike Sneakers, which need to be managed properly and distributed efficiently by shoe-size.

Winter Coats, Hats and ScarvesThe same applies to our winter coats, hats, gloves and scarves.

Umbrellas for Rainy DaysOther items come in bulk; but they're still special—like umbrellas for rainy days. We store these things until they're needed...

Teddy Bears and other stuffed toys... or the right event comes along. Either way, warehousing Special Inventory has always been challenging for us. Now, we hope to make it less difficult.

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