questionscan you suggest improvements for our food pantry…

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We use an online program called Charity Tracker to generate monthly reports. The online site gives us a breakdown of age ranges which is required by the food bank from which we get much of our food. We can also generate CSV documents (from which we have been creating our cards).
We need to continue to use Charity Tracker but we are unable to use it during the actual registration process. I am throwing around the idea of using Google docs or Excel during the registration process. We need to keep it orderly. We need to continue to track number of households, number of people in households, and age ranges of people in households. Unfortunately, internet access is intermittent in the registration location. Work to change this has been plagued with problems.

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My goals are:
- Reduce the time it takes for a household to register/check-in. I’m hoping to get to below 10 seconds/registration.
- Reduce the time it takes to do data entry.
- Reduce material costs.
- Improve the ease of checking in for our volunteers
- Maintain the ease of moving people through the steps to get food
My current idea is to use Excel to add sequential numbers to registering households. Data is quickly updated each month with a downloadable file from Charity Tracker. Saves on printing costs and prep time. It is faster and easier to find names (One of the problems we’ve been having is we have over 1,000 different households and managing the cards can be difficult). When it is time to call people, the list can quickly (click of a button) be reordered according to the number given at the time.

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The major problem I see with this is new households. We currently have new households fill out a form while in line. When they get to where they check in, we write their number on that form. We don’t have to change this, but I don’t particularly want to have two different media to keep track of in order to call people to get their food.

Thanks for any input and advice.

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One idea I had was to use a washable marker and write the number on the back of a person's hand as they come in. New households can get in one line, returning in another. New households are then entered into a form of some kind (either they do it themselves, or I have somebody do it which is why I want a form). Can excel do forms like google can?

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You gave a lot of details, but it might not be enough for me to understand what's going on.

Does each existing household have a card - sort of like a library/ID card? Do they ONLY register that night or can they register on other days or by other means?

What do the numbers and colors on the card mean?

On check-in, they get a number. Is it sequential? Is that so they know their place in line?

When you are looking up a household, where is it looked up? A computer file? Are they looked up by an ID number?

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@omnichad: My apologies. I gave some information I didn't need to. When a household is called, they are given a small laminated card with the number of people in their household on it. The cards are divided into household sizes, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7+ with each group having it's own color. It's so that our volunteers know how much to give. Those cards should not be confused with the cards we use for checking in repeat households.

Any family/household we have ever served in any way has a card. It's just a 4.25 x 5.5 cardstock card that we keep at all times. We don't sign anybody up early so every month beginning at 5:30, we check people in for that evening. First come first serve, hence the numbers assigned, sequentially (for our purposes only to keep them in order, we call names). The household information can be gathered anytime, but they have to be in line that evening to actually check in and get food.

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@omnichad: Currently we look up households by name of the head of household in our homemade card catalog (the cards used for checking in). I'm thinking about doing it via excel. Still using the name of the head of household.

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I don't want to make things too technical, but it's hard because that's my thing.

Entering everyone in Excel seems like the simplest way to go. I would give each family an ID number. Each family gets an ID card with a number on it. Six digits, maybe. In the Excel document, the first tab would have everyone listed. The second tab would start out empty. As people check in you hit CTRL+F, type in their number, press enter. Then copy that person's row into the second tab. That second tab is your ordered list - clear it each week or save it for your records. Maybe Charity Tracker already has your ID numbers. ID numbers are faster to type and less prone to misspelling. Verify name on ID card.

I'd go one step further and print out new ID cards via a Word mail merge onto pre-cut business card paper. There's a free Code 39 font you can use to also put barcodes of the ID number onto the card. Then you'd be ready to buy cheap barcode scanners to speed it up even more in the future.

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And start the ID numbers with 1-9 - no zeroes at the beginning. That way they're all the same length and you won't get partial matches on shorter ID numbers.

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I am on on the board for the local FEMA Food and Shelter Grant, coincidentally I'm in the process of reviewing proposals, six of them are for food pantries. Your system seems pretty well organized, although using an electronic format to look up households would definitely be an improvement over using a card catalog. It would seem to me that issuing the registered families a laminated identity card with a client number would be even more efficient. Unlike names, client numbers are not easily spelled wrong and don't change. You could require them to present the card and a matching photo ID to receive continued services. Then you would be able to process returning clients very quickly, and have a separate line for new registrations. You could have your new registrants fill out their own line on the Excel document, assigning them a sequential number as you go. You could have them fill out the form themselves, but it would go a lot faster to have someone on staff do it.

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The first time previously-registered families check in on the new setup, you give them their new card and do the lookup by name.

You would also print out extra cards with just ID numbers / barcodes and a blank to write in the name.

If families forget or lose their card, look them up manually and put them on a list to get new cards next time.

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If check-in still needs to be handled by more than one person at once with all the streamlining, that's when I'd move to something custom-programmed.

A desktop computer can run a web server just fine. No Internet needed. It wouldn't take long for a volunteer to import your CSV directly into a database and code up a lookup / data entry form. Then, checking in people would add to a central list.

But throw in some more obsolete computers on the other side of the room and you could have the new families self-register. Have them grab a temporary ID card and type their ID number and info into the computer, while writing their name on the card.

I think I like @moondrake's idea of the laminated card just to have it last longer. But that can be done then and there once their name is handwritten on it.

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Some interesting ideas. I'll have to ponder these awhile. Also, I have no problems with technical, but I prefer simple to complex.

As I do, some thoughts, reactions, and further details to complicate things:

I don't have the resources or ability to setup an intranet in addition to what already exists, which is a DD-WRT wireless router as an extender (or bridge or whatever they call it, I don't remember now but figured it all out when I was setting it up) from our other location. The other location has the office computers and happens to be where the food pantry actually is. I can't setup permanent computers. I could run a couple of network cables to the DD-WRT, but that would make the registration location difficult. Still, I will consider that.

I'm trying to avoid printing costs and don't really want to mess with them. The first thing is a practical matter, the second is just a reaction. Something to think about is a 2 or more step process so that if we keep growing... continued

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we can add another step. So maybe cards could be done later and seamlessly integrated into what we setup now with excel.

Also, if new people are being registered while repeats are checking in, how would we integrate the data being entered to maintain their order in line?

Also, registration begins at 5:30 and is open until 7. We begin calling names at 6 so even if we register everybody in line by 6, more people will be coming in so we do need to be able to add new names while calling previously checked-in households.

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@thepenrod: If you're using Excel, you would enter them on the first tab and then copy them to the end of the line in Excel in the second tab.

At any time, you can switch to the second tab and call the next name before shading it to mark it as called.

If going with a custom-programmed solution, people are self-registering, they would probably still have to check in. But that's really only to prevent fraud (verifying new households). But if the computers are all networked, then the server could add them to the end of the check-in list on registration. Their info could be verified when it's their turn to be called instead.

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@omnichad: Is there a form that can be easily customized for excel?

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@omnichad: Also, is there some kind of script that can be run where a line is automatically copied when a number is entered into a certain column?

Edit, I guess it would be a macro.

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The hard part of using computers is having a temporary setup. You could go with old laptops, but if the batteries are shot then the slightest bump on the power cord will shut down the system. Old desktops tend to be really heavy and take a lot more time to set up. But slow is just fine. They just need bare Windows and Chrome.

An intranet is just as simple as turning on a router and giving it a wifi password. It will automatically hand out IP addresses and route traffic and that's really all that's needed. One exception is giving the server a static IP address. No need to even connect back to the main office. I've already picked up two used routers at yard sales this fall and put DD-WRT on them for under $5 combined. I realize that's not the best way to get one - but they're out there for cheap.

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@thepenrod: Not as far as I know. One option is to add a third tab and make a registration form. The blanks where the values are entered and then you click a button to activate a macro to insert it. I don't like that idea.

To me, it's easier to just set it so the column headers are locked to the top of the screen and you just type directly in the row. It really depends how many fields you have and whether they all fit on screen at once. Since you'd be typing at the bottom of the list, you would see other records on-screen as an example to guide yourself by.

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@thepenrod: For the question about a number in a certain column, what would that macro be used for?

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@omnichad: I'm not terribly familiar with excel and macros. I'm just trying to remove steps, so if the software would add the record to the second tab after their place in line were entered, that would make this more idea. For instance, Joe Smith comes in and he's 54th in line so we find his record and enter 54 in... oh. I just realized I was combining one of my ideas with what you were saying. All I have to do is copy their record to the second tab and they will be in order. My idea was to enter their number into a new column and then reorder the table from smallest to largest according to that column. Then we'd only be working in one tab (I foresee that as a benefit). However, doing a second tab would give us 950 fewer records to have to mess with when entering new households. The bulk of the data entry will be done later on Charity Tracker and then it's two clicks to download the new complete record.

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@thepenrod: If you need to track new registrations later for entry in Charity Tracker, you'd need 3 tabs.

1) This is all of your registered households.
2) This is all of your new registrations.
3) This is where you just paste in a record to add them to that day's check-in roster.

For tab 3, you just find the person in tab 1, click to the left of the row to highlight the entire row and just copy and paste that row to tab 3. Or, for new registrants copy from tab 2 to tab 3. Tab 3 would always be in order. Tab 3 would be cleared out each week.

Tab 2 could be exported from Excel to CSV to import into Charity Tracker, most likely.

P.S. Yeah - you were combining two ideas. Self-registration would only happen after moving on to a multi-computer setup. You'd start out with just Excel, no macros really needed.

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I am following along closely to this question. I may have suggestions later today, but need to work outside while the sun is out, and it's still warm. I'm also going to drop a line to a friend or two.

@thepenrod, do you mind sharing which state this is in?

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@thepenrod: Too bad. I have no one local that owes me favors. I'm going to have to sit down with the Excel and see if I can make you some ready made macros to do some of the things you're looking for.

What's the time line for all this?

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@shrdlu: I'll probably make some changes to test out in time for our next one. Third Thursday of the month. But I'm thinking 2 or 3 months process to fully work out and integrate the next change. I appreciate the help, but wouldn't want you to spend time on something we don't end up using. Let me try out excel this month and I'll do an amalgamation of paper registrations for new households and I can handle any issues that come up. But that way I'll have a better idea for what we still need, changes to make, etc. That is of course of you decide to help with those. I do want to hear your ideas, though.

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For anybody still tracking this I appreciate your thoughts and I'm ready for the next round. I'm sorry it took so long, but I was able to identify some problems at one food pantry that I wanted to go ahead and fix for the next one as well as get more experience doing it so that I could better evaluate problems and solutions.

This stuff may not be logically ordered as I'm under a bit of time crunch so I'll use letters to identify the different issues. Feel free to reference the letter if it is easier for you.

A. For a small monthly fee, the database host (Charitytracker.net) will let us upload a file (excel or comma separated, or something like that) with new households information so that we don't have to do the data entry. But this data entry would have to be done by somebody (either the person registering or a volunteer) at some point. I don't see volunteers doing this during the registration process. I'd like for new people to be able to do it themselves that evening.

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B. Doing everything in excel is great, except that when we call names, it interrupts the registration process. We need a separate screen with a separate window that can be scrolled separately. The best I could come up with last month was on the fly. I copied my desktop to a second screen. For some reason, excel doesn't play nicely in windows with opening up a second window on a separate display. I'm sure it can be done (I hope) but I couldn't figure it out and haven't found the solution yet. The best thing, thought would for that to be on a separate system altogether with it's own control. This could be on the same network and I have a computer that could be used for it. Is there a way to have access to the same document at the same time over a network? I'm working with older machines and although we would have network access, internet access isn't guaranteed so I can't do Microsoft Office online.

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I forgot to mention that two months ago (the month I implemented using the computer), we had 230 households. 50 above our previous record and 80 above our average. It was crazy.

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I'll have to come back to this. I have a headache and am not feeling well. I'll leave you all with a summary of my thoughts for now and appreciate any responses.

Last month we used 5 people to do registrations. Two to manage handing out paperwork, two to take registrations (one on computer and one handling new household paper), and one to call names and hand out cards. I'd like to get that number down somehow as we don't always have that many people to help.

As much as I'd like to make this easy and just give and call numbers, we've created a specific atmosphere of respect and personal interaction that we would like to keep. That means taking and calling names.

There's more, but I have to lay down now.