Business innovation and social enterprise are a natural pairing. When the aim is to do charitable work while staying in the black, sometimes the answer is to try something that nobody else has tried before. This is exactly where Will and Nancy from Second Harvest Food Bank in Orlando, FL found themselves a few years ago. They knew they could create healthy meals for local schools at a good price, and utilizing food pathways from Second Harvest. Their kitchen – an innovative design for a renovated laundry room capable of pumping out 37,500 meals per week – was up to the task. But they knew their organization had neither the capital nor desire to buy and manage a whole fleet of drivers and delivery vehicles.
Enter Michael from Eagle Express Couriers. With Will and Nancy’s vision and Michael’s expertise and willingness to re-invent his fleet, they embarked on a mission to create a vehicle system with the flexibility to deliver hot and cold meals at the proper temp, in the proper time, and at the right price. Michael recalls that his first thought after meeting with Will and Nancy was “I just agreed to do something, and I don’t have any idea if I actually know how to do it!”
Together they pushed ahead and, with Second Harvest’s guidance, Michael custom-built a fleet of 5 trailers. There were bumps in the road, of course. The first generators they bought weren’t as advertised, so they upgraded. Then came aluminum frames to save on gas cost and allow for lighter trucks to pull them. Then GPS-based temperature logging software to comply with regulations for child meals. And recently, Bluetooth radios so that meal delivery at the schools could also double as an impromptu dance party for the kids. Each trailer can transport and serve 900 hot or cold meals per delivery run twice a day for a total of at least 1800 meals.
As the relationship with the two companies has grown and developed – adding more trailers, meals, drivers, and delivery routes – they’ve managed to drastically reduce costs. The target overhead per meal for driver and delivery is now around just $0.20.
Michael, who owns a second courier company in the Philadelphia area, and has contacts with the CLDA members across the country, thinks this model could work elsewhere. He has already built trailers or advised on trailer projects with food banks in New Jersey, Monmouth, New Orleans, and Houston. Michael says these relationships do make sense for his business too. Will and Nancy see the potential of the Catalyst Kitchens mission in any space, large or small. They want other food banks and inspired individuals to see the possibility of kitchen operations wherever they are at, laundry room or otherwise. Together, they believe in the work being done, and the power of consistent innovation to advance the network. Michael sums up their mindset well, “You just go out and try to hit a single every day. I’m not going to become a millionaire from this, but that’s not the point. When a customer like [Second Harvest] has an idea, you don’t say no. You say ‘yes, and let’s figure this out together’.”
A final note and update since these interviews were originally conducted: As part of the relief efforts associated with Hurricane Irma, Second Harvest Food Bank produced and distributed around 30,000 hot meal for shelters, distributing food across 7 counties through a the combined efforts of the American Red Cross and their own delivery trailers.
Michael Frankel can be contacted through his company, Eagle Express Courier at their website – http://www.eagleexpresscouriers.com/
Will and Nancy can be found through the Catalyst Kitchens Member Directory.