Dear Friends and Partners:
"We think the Dream Center is the best Food Program around but...", is what one guest shared with us at our first ever Focus Group meeting held earlier this month.
We've been doing a whole lot of work behind the scenes as we prepare to re-open the South Jersey Dream Center (SJDC) when we find a permanent location. In all our planning and preparation, the thought occurred to us, let's ask our guests what they want (great idea, huh)! We wanted to know what's important to them. What was good about the Dream Center, what we could do better, and what would be best, from their perspective.
So, we extended an open invitation to all Food Distribution guests to join us for a Focus Group at the Woodbury Library. To sit with us and give us their honest and candid feedback on what we can do to serve them more effectively. And they did. And it was awesome!
Eight Food Distribution guests and five SJDC leaders came together on a stormy night, to discuss how to successfully prepare the Dream Center for the future. They needed no prompting, this group came ready to share...mostly positives, along with some very constructive negatives.
In summary, all guests agreed that the SJDC is top notch in many ways. They raved about the variety of food choices and that we didn't pre-bag our food, which allowed them to "shop" for what they needed for their individual families. Especially the fresh produce, meats, and the large amount of food they received. One guest shared how they received a huge cake for their child just in time for their birthday. They enjoyed the positive atmosphere, the Bible message of hope, the friendly volunteers, the sense of community, and that it felt like "someone cared" for them. They said the overall operation was very well organized, and that they were treated "right". The door prizes, Family & Friends Day, free hair cuts, and Mother's Day gifts were always fun and an added bonus. Personal hygiene items and pet food were a welcome treat too, being that people can't buy them with Food Stamps.
At one point in the discussion we asked the guests to rate the SJDC from 1 to 10, with 10 being a perfect score. We went around the room and heard 8, 8, 8, 8, 10, 6 (ouch), 7, 7. That's when the tide turned and we were able to openly talk about the long lines to get in, and the long wait to go through the food line. How parents had to juggle getting their kids to school, and try and make it to the SJDC early enough to get a decent number, and be out in time to pick their kids up. How the music was too loud, and how some felt the Bible teaching and workshops weren't really their thing. That parking was an issue, and the toilet paper in the bathrooms would often go missing. And of course, one of the biggest problems, the line jumping outside the building in the wee hours of the morning as people waited to get inside.
Though it was not said of the SJDC, our guests shared with us that often times, people who attend food pantries are thought of and/or treated as "less than's", people who don't want to work, and "low life's". One guest shared that at several places, the volunteers are actually "afraid of poor people". They said that the exact opposite was true of the SJDC. On a side note, one guest shared that many low income people won't come to a food pantry to get help, that they would rather shop at regular grocery stores where you can't tell that they're on food stamps when they check out. That food pantries are "beneath them", they just want to mix in with the crowd and not let anyone know they're poor.
In conclusion, it was agreed that going back to a hall of some kind, once a month, would mean going back to more of the same...long lines and long waits. That a permanent location is the only way to go, and it's worth the wait for the right place. With our own place, the SJDC can open more often, multiple times a week, which would cut down on the wait time by serving smaller groups at one time, and serving even more people in the long run. With our own place, our guests wouldn't have to observe all the hustle and bustle of activity with set up and break down and unloading and stocking the shelves. All that would be taken care of on the days prior to distribution, which would open up more volunteer opportunities for guests. As for ways to alleviate the line jumping, we talked about a possible early sign-in procedure.
One of the greatest compliments we received at the Focus Group is that we are "approachable", that we listen. We will never have "arrived" when it comes to perfecting our operation, but we are committed to making the Dream Center a place of excellence, and wholeheartedly welcome feedback of any kind. We would love to hear from you too, simply email us at firstname.lastname@example.org any time.
Pastor Joe and Natalie
PS - Oh yeah, one more thing, when we re-open, we promise to "step away" from the volume button on our music!
Calling all volunteers who have served at the Dream Center Food & Clothing Distribution! We are now "RE-cruiting" people who are interested in serving again when we re-open. It takes over 50 volunteers to make Distribution Day happen, and we want to be ready with a full team in position. Be on the look out for an invite to meet with our Leadership Team, followed by a power-packed "Re-Orientation" Day.
Serving in Registration
While serving as Registration Coordinator on Distribution Day at the Dream Center, Tonya Avent had the opportunity to speak directly with guests, and take time to hear their heart. Listen here as she briefly shares what an impact this experience had on her, as one of the first people that guests see when they arrive. "It's not easy to for people to go somewhere new, and even more so to a Food Distribution". Knowing this, she and her team welcomed each person with a smile of love and acceptance.
Location, Location, Location
Three locations...that's what we've looked at in pursuit of a permanent site for the South Jersey Dream Center. Though we continue to distribute food every week to five different local agencies, the search continues for our own place. Most recently, we met with the leaders at the Holy Trinity, Holy Redeemer Church and school in Westville. The property is currently for sale, and would be a perfect location to fulfill our mission. It would be easy to go back into another hall from month to month, but the long lines, waiting for hours for food, and intense set up and break down, do not make for a positive experience for guests or volunteers. Not to mention that we would not be fulfilling our mission to provide training and Bible studies to help people make lasting and positive changes in their lives. So, we will continue to press forward, the right location is worth waiting for. We will keep you posted.