Over the years, St. Felix Pantry in Rio Rancho has received its share of donations, but for the last few months, the pantry received a donation its volunteers never even thought to ask for.
Everything changed when University of New Mexico graduate student Shamiso Olive Chirenda came in and realized the pantry needed a more efficient way of receiving and offering donated items.
Chirenda said she began a study in manufacturing engineering at UNM, which allows a master’s student to intern for an organization by quantifying their work over a year.
“I did much of my course work during my senior semester of college,” she said. “The challenge with my major happened when it came time for me to find a local manufacturing company that would be willing to work with me.”
Chirenda said many of the manufacturing companies she asked were leery of having an unpaid intern because of liability concerns.
“When I found the pantry, it was a blessing because they were willing to work with me and they fit my criteria for the course work,” she said.
The distribution and delivery system at the pantry was a major part of Chirenda’s focus.
“My job was to find where things would bottleneck in both distribution and delivery,” she said.
Chirenda said the pantry didn’t have any systems that would point to problems in those areas.
“I had to go into St. Felix Pantry a couple of times to see exactly how everything was working, and it seemed that they were having problems with different truck routes,” Chirenda said.
Organization was another issue, she said, as similar items were being stored in different sections.
“Navigating around St. Felix is like a maze,” she said. “So I went around and started looking for the best way to utilize the space the pantry had to work with.”
Chirenda took data in the form of time studies and proved to the volunteers and staff that a bottleneck was occurring in the warehouse. She did this by recording the cycle times of each truck route upon entering the pantry.
“I timed everything as soon as the product hit the pallet to when it was going to be stored,” she said. “That was just Route One.”
Chirenda said Route Two had three trucks come in daily and deliver over 100 boxes.
“This is produce and dry goods — you know, everything combined on one day,” she said. “These products would be put away faster by a group of volunteers.”
Route Three was any donation from anyone at any time, which could take time and a volunteer away from other areas of the pantry.
“This spot really requires an experienced volunteer because some people will donate items that are not usable, but in order to do this, (volunteers) have to leave their post,” Chirenda said.
Now, she has implemented a system that cuts down on time and enables the pantry to work more efficiently.
“We are still working on refining the pantry side, but the warehouse is modified because there is less traffic going in there,” she said.
Chirenda was pleased to present her quantifiable findings to a committee of academic and St. Felix Pantry peers as part of her master’s degree requirement.
“It was hard work, but what I found is that the model I was implementing worked and the numbers were there to prove it,” she said.
Chirenda also created easy-to-follow work instructions for new volunteers at the pantry so they can continue using the method she and other pantry volunteers developed.
“Now everything is consistent and everyone has been on board with the project,” she said.
After graduating with her master’s degree, Chirenda plans on moving to Tennessee, where she said she already has a job lined up.