The financial impacts of the coronavirus have been many and varied – including reduced incomes and forced business closures – but some parts of society have been more severely affected than others by the consequent economic hardships.
The Salvation Army (SA) has focused its efforts on setting up regional food hubs to ensure vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals and families across the UK receive help during these arduous times.
The organisation’s staff, officers (ministers) volunteers and partners have been working hard to make sure vital support gets to those who need it the most and that donations of all kinds are utilised and not wasted. As a result, some truly innovative relationships have been forged.
Responding to Covid-19
People throughout the UK face financial hits, with 25% of businesses having temporarily closed or paused trading, and those firms continuing to trade have furloughed an average of 21% of staff under the government job retention scheme, according to government statistics.
The unstable work climate combined with the hike in food prices, up by 0.9% from March – and reduced store discounts – give an indication of the knock-on effects the Covid-19 crisis is having on the public’s monthly shopping and ability to feed themselves.
The charity aimed to prioritise resolving this issue for families and individuals across the country by creating a network of 22 regional food hubs that local SA banks could draw supplies from, and overall has invested more than £500,000 in responding to Covid-19.
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During this journey to building up the charity’s central food procurement to meet the demands of the pandemic, The SA has contended with challenges surrounding logistics, working across sectors, and adapting to supplying and storing new food categories, such as chilled foods, as well as the exponential increase in demands on services.
Andrew Roper, head of procurement at The SA, says: “I think the big challenge is that while The SA do food banks locally, it's very much always been done on a community needs basis. We've never done any central procurement of food in the Salvation Army.”
However, Roper emphasised that during the crisis, his procurement team has learned that “necessity is the mother of invention”, and agility and the ability to pivot operations is key.
In the face of struggles with reduced income and increased demands on its services, particularly around food banks, the charity has reorganised 80-90% of its procurement efforts towards supporting the food bank system, boosting donations hit by the lockdown and restrictions limiting the purchase of food items per single customer.
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Apted, who has 12 years’ previous experience in food supply chain logistics at Whitbread, says the church and charity is currently provisioning the food hubs so local food banks can use them to access supplies.
“We're putting a limited range in across the whole of the country so our centres will be able to draw the same amount, but it will save volunteers having to queue up in supermarkets and be, potentially, more exposed to the virus. And it will be pre-packaged and ready for them to pick up when they turn up.”
The dedicated direct and indirect procurement team of nine – including Roper, Apted and operations procurement manager Dominic Tarn – have been working seven days a week to bump up food bank support, on top of their duties for continuing community services in areas such as modern slavery and homelessness.
“We're doing the day job on the weekends and we're doing this [food hub project] in the week,” adds Apted.
Roper says: “In procurement, 90% of what we were doing six weeks ago, we're not doing anymore. And within Steve's team and the operational procurement teams, this is probably 80-90% of their workload.
“We've already got a large existing network of volunteers, as well as additional people that have volunteered to work the food hubs, including some of the procurement team.”
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The SA has received significant donations from both national and local organisations which, together with the money invested directly by The Salvation Army, is enabling the church and charity to provide food parcels for over 25,000 families across the UK. The collaborative working behaviour of industries at this time of unprecedented demand has been the church and charity’s saving grace.
The procurement team came up with a strategy for a new procurement model for its food banks, with collaboration at the forefront to counter the extra demand on its services, which have been exacerbated by the pressure on the retail sector.
Roper says: “The demand for The Salvation Army's food banks has increased massively at a time where we have challenges to our incomes. We don't have the money to go out and buy anywhere near enough food to be able to source from our own supplies.
“It's been collaborative efforts from both the retailers, hospitality and catering industry, as well as supply chain professionals outside the organisation that have joined in to help.”
The SA has been working with a range of national supermarkets, including Morrisons and Tesco, and has been in touch with others, like Asda, which have also been keen to help. Supermarkets have helped by providing “preferential treatment to SA volunteers” to ensure donations are accommodated, and have offered donations in the form of food, carrier bags and central ordering.
Morrisons has been the key partner and especially helpful, says Apted. The supermarket’s wholesale division is working with the charity and they also assigned store champions who can assist SA officers in stores, giving them priority access with no food purchasing restrictions.
“I think the problem supermarkets are facing is that they've been inundated with demand the same as everyone else. Their supply chains have been under pressure and they've been trying to support NHS workers, vulnerable people, and their home deliveries have ramped up,” he adds.
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Creative, alternative support
In this unusual time, a diverse group has come together to offer help, including other businesses such as corporate food manufacturers, restaurants and hotel chains, and local leisure centres. A training vessel in Barry Harbour, west of Cardiff, has also offered food supplies, and a technology company has suggested “significantly discounted rates and deferred payments” to support the charity through Covid-19 impacts.
Apted says: “Even companies that are not directly in sectors that we need to do business with are supporting us through creative, alternative ways.”
Supply chain consultants have also been contributing their efforts by utilising connections through social media to help get the word out on the food donation shortages and ways businesses and the public can offer support. One example is Richard Wilding, a professor of supply chain and logistics at Cranfield University, who put out a LinkedIn post to his 13,000 followers.
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A decentralised approach was taken to resolve logistical barriers, with clear communication between the collaborative partners, regional food hubs and volunteers facilitating successful distribution. Roper says: “As we don't have the resources to manage large logistical operations, we need to make sure that we put the local site with the donations in connection with the local food bank [hub] and let them manage the handling of the products.”
The different methods of operating food chains in the charity sector and retail sector also posed a problem, as often corporate food donations weren’t ideal for family-size, food bank-style donations.
Apted highlights: “The commercial food supply chain operations are set up in a completely different way to retail food supply chain operations. Obviously, commercial food chain operations are in bulk packs, whereas, what we need for food banks is domestic packs. For example, things in 10kg tubs are really not very helpful.”
The charity has been offered various food donations from restaurant chains and takeaway chains, however, some pack sizes have been “too large to handle” as The SA doesn’t have the facilities to either transport it or decant it into smaller units.
In these circumstances, coordination with supermarkets’ wholesale divisions and food manufacturers at the end of the supply chain have been key for ensuring donations fit The SA requirements and bottlenecks do not occur during the logistical process.
The charity has also worked closely with long-term, experienced delivery partners, such as toy store The Entertainer, to distribute food donations across hubs effectively.
If any companies have any food donations, or other support they’d like to offer to The Salvation Army, please contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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