Javier Traconis intentionally moved each box, utilizing the space in his Ford Focus. About 10 boxes – about 18 inches wide and one foot tall and deep – filled the back seat, all sealed by Houston Food Bank volunteers. Five more were tucked in the trunk, with three more piled on the front passenger seat.
A few minutes later, Traconis made a round, sounding the door of the senior’s house after putting down the box and cheese bricks. The next stop might be a drop-off from Whole Foods, or other food bank shipments. He just goes through the application, directing it and other Amazon Flex drivers around the area where they can centralize shipping in one environment to reduce commute.
A partnership between Amazon and the food bank connects willing delivery drivers with a starving aid agency to get food for a week for seniors.
“There are always people who can’t travel or can’t leave home,” said Jose Campuzano, manager of the Houston Food Bank warehouse.
Although food bank officials have not yet upgraded pilots to full strength, Amazon is committed to closing up to 750 shipments per day, until June 30.
In a statement, Bri Tye, general manager at the Amazon fulfillment center in Katy, said the company’s delivery and $ 50,000 donation to a food bank “would be used directly to help feed the elderly and families who need it most.”
For Etoil Grant, 92, it was a big boost in his ability to maintain a full kitchen. He relies on a food bank for basic needs, usually picking it up at the Church of Sts. Mary Methodist in South Union, close to her home in Gulfgate. However, Grant no longer feels comfortable driving.
“I like this delivery,” Grant said, saying the driver would ring the bell and then his grandson could stop by later and help him unload. “This really helped me.”
Campuzano said the aim was to gradually build services out of boxes that were not perishable and a small amount of milk sent Friday for more fruit, vegetables and other fresh goods.
That is good news for Grant.
“I like vegetables, fruits. As long as it’s food, I’m happy to have it, “he said.
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Partnering with Amazon is perfect for a food bank, said Campuzano. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the shopping volume of juggling banks tripled to 1.5 million pounds of food and other goods. Large-scale distribution events such as the one held at NRG Park last weekend could share the majority of the supply because Campuzano carried truckloads in and out of the food bank.
That makes the staff ready to meet the needs of other niches, such as seniors who live at home. Amazon, with an army of local drivers who deliver goods, can use its Flex drivers that deliver quickly in their private cars, utilizing its routing software to compile a food bank box for the most efficient distribution.
Orders operate the same as any other shipment. Food bank workers upload the client’s name and address and then the Amazon shipping system organizes them into groups. Drivers receive pings as if they are handling another order and then take the box.
At 2 pm, Campuzano had a summary of the deliveries that were successful and which could not be done by the driver because of the wrong address, no one was at home, or something stopping them from making it to the door.
Friday morning, drivers usually come and receive 18 deliveries. For many people, operating from a small sedan like Traconis, that means some compartments are crowded when boxes contain luggage and rear seats.
Then there was Sakariyah Adegoke, who ran to the loading dock with focus like NASCAR and rotated the minivan with smooth movements. Lifting the back, a few pulls of the box to arrange it evenly and Adegoke departs.
Amazon pays the driver for delivery as if it were an order for other groceries, although driver Daniel Siem said he was rethinking the trip. Based on the transportation volume of a dozen or more large boxes, he said he calculated other orders to be more profitable. Even so, he said, work is work.
“We all need help now,” Siem said.
Like the seniors, said Campuzano. COVID-19 has drastically increased demand for food banks – with several steps by the country’s largest charity food distribution agency. To do that, he said volunteers and workers must move food in new ways.
“This is not a large number of people,” Camuzano said of seniors at home, relative to the 128,000 families that are fed by the food bank each week. “We just do everything we can to fill that niche and find new ways to deliver food.”
If the Amazon pilot works well, Campuzano said that he would be happy to work with another shipping company that connects drivers and clients via smartphones.
“Hunger has no preferences,” he said.
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