AUBURN — The Good Shepherd
Food-Bank is changing how it handles its millions of pounds of food.

The supplier to 600-plus soup kitchens and shelters across the state is overhauling its sorting and inspecting processes. In upcoming months, new conveyor belt systems and tracking software will follow every box of pasta or can of
peaches from its arrival at the Auburn warehouse to its delivery to a
charity.

“It’s a much smoother operation and takes up less time,” said Rick Small, the food bank’s executive director. Eventually, the changes will make it possible for the food bank to handle more food with greater precision with the same staff.

“We’re not looking to hire any new people,” said Small, who manages a staff of 32.

The food bank operation distributes food from a combination of sources: large, bulk food purchases and donations that come from supermarket chains and food producers.

Since its Hotel Road warehouse opened in 2001, that food has been handled in essentially the same way. Incoming food, usually hauled in by tractor-trailer, is inspected on arrival.

Banana boxes stacked high on pallets are unloaded and reloaded via forklift or old-fashioned dead lifting. Food is sorted into narrow categories and re-boxed.

In recent weeks, some of that has changed. A rack with a wheeled surface was installed in the inspection room. The goal: steadily move the accepted food further through the process.

“A box gets handled twice rather than four to six times,” Small said.

Soon, a $30,000 grant from L.L. Bean will pay for a new conveyor belt system. Other grants and contributions will create a fully electronic inventory system, Small said. It will even allow charities to order food online, accessing the food bank the way a book buyer shops at Amazon.com.

“They’ll be able to order cases of hot dogs knowing how many we have, and we’ll have an invoice  to follow,” Small said. It ought to prevent mistakes in orders and help the food bank track the supply of individual foods.

It also will contribute to the end-goal of these improvements: moving the food through the warehouse rather than merely stacking it higher.

The food bank is expected to distribute about 12 million pounds of food this year and 13 million pounds in 2011, Small said.

[email protected]

Derek Sluhoeki of Greene rolls boxes down a conveyor belt to be sorted at the Good Shepherd Food-Bank in Auburn. Since its inception, the process of handling the massive volume of items has become more streamlined, and more innovations are on the way to help deliver the donated goods.

Derek Sluhoeki of Greene rolls boxes down a conveyor belt to be sorted at the Good Shepherd Food-Bank in Auburn. Since its inception, the process of handling the massive volume of items has become more streamlined, and more innovations are on the way to help deliver the donated goods.

A variety of staff and volunteers can be found working together on any given day at the Good Shepherd Food-Bank in Auburn.

Roy Martin drives a lift around the Good Shepherd Food-Bank in Auburn on Tuesday morning. He and his wife have been coming from Pennsylvania with their church group to help work in the warehouse and kitchen for the past three years. Since its inception, the process of handling the massive volume of items has become more streamlined, and more innovations are on the way to help deliver the donated goods. But the majority of the work force remains the same: volunteers.

John Gatcombe packs a pickup truck he and others from the Waldoboro Food Pantry were loading at the Good Shepherd Food-Bank in Auburn on Tuesday morning. They are one of dozens of charitable organizations that depend on the Auburn facility to stay in business.

Good Shepherd Food-Bank in Auburn


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.