Strategic Route Planning Boosts High-End Family Store Donations in Ft. Lauderdale

Jul 13, 2017 | by Laura Poff

Strategic Route Planning Boosts High-End Family Store Donations in Ft. Lauderdale

By: David Ibata

It's no simple task overseeing a fleet of Salvation Army trucks picking up and dropping off big donations, like furniture and appliances, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It's a metropolitan area, which means lots of traffic. Many donors live in high-rise buildings with restricted access. And with 2.5 million people within a 25-mile radius of the Adult Rehabilitation Center, how does one focus on the most productive areas?

The Fort Lauderdale ARC has six Family Stores, 15 trucks, 18 drivers and at least that many helpers to service eight to 10 routes across Broward County. (A helper typically is a beneficiary who's been enrolled six weeks.)

"You really have to think it out," said Major Henry Hudson, ARC administrator. "We avoid certain areas with traffic headaches at particular times of the day, so we're not driving into a parking lot and sitting there. We're trying to pick up 22 to 23 tickets a day with each truck, and (crews) only have a certain amount of time to get to a location, get what was donated and go on to the next stop. You really have to keep moving when you're driving, with not a lot of dead air when you're not."

Major Hudson has been with the ARC Command for 13 years. He arrived in Fort Lauderdale 10 years ago. One of the first things he did was work with his dispatcher to make the in-gathering process more efficient.

They sought to determine "what kind of donations we were receiving, which neighborhoods gave donations, and which gave the better donations" in quantity and quality, he said. How does one define "better"? "Well, if someone is giving you a bed, they'll give you not just the mattress but a footboard, headboard, dresser and nightstand."

The information helped in mapping out daily routes for the trucks – "Rather than having a route three time a week in an area, we'd have one five times a week" – and in setting priorities: "You want to go get the best donations almost immediately. If you book a pickup four days in advance, it's more likely somebody will come along and say, Hey, I can use that – and before you know it, half the donation is gone. We try to stay within 48 hours, if at all possible."

Some of the most productive areas can be the hardest to access.

"We are right next to the beach and Highway A1A, and there are high rises and apartment buildings and condominiums along the beach, and they can be very generous but very difficult to get to," Major Hudson said. A building may restrict trucks to a parking lot some distance away, and elevators may be available by reservation only certain hours of the day to move large goods.

"That's really a coordinated task. We set aside our Mondays for tasks like that."

The effort pays off. The Army often gets upholstered furniture, exercise equipment, dining room tables, flat-screen televisions and appliances. "Just last week, we received one of those triple-door stainless steel refrigerators in fabulous shape; the donors were redesigning their kitchen, putting something bigger in there, and we got an almost-new $1,700 refrigerator.

"It blows my mind to see what people donate to The Salvation Army," Major Hudson said.

Fort Lauderdale reaches the public several ways. The ARC and each of its stores have Facebook pages. Also, "we have drivers put door knockers for two or three houses or two or three apartments on each side of a pickup. With 100 tickets a day, you're reaching up to 600 households. We're glad to take donations, so we leave a phone number; we also provide a list of drop-off sites."

When people call in, phone operators ask callers for an email address; the caller gets access to a website to download a donation receipt, and the Army gets contact information, keyed to a geographical area, for its database.

"We can send a blast out to a particular zip code or phone number area to let them know we'll be in the area, or that there's a special campaign going on and we'll have a great need for shoes or clothes," Major Hudson said. Mass emails are limited to once a month, he added. "We don't want to be a pain. We want to be very respectful and not intrusive."

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