Mapping the Families

September 7, 2011

For the next couple weeks I will be posting sections of chapter six of my book, A Day of Hope: Leading Volunteers to Make a Difference in Your Community. I wrote the book to teach people who lead volunteers to do good work in your community.

This is section four and is a chance for you, my blog readers, to enjoy the book for free. 


A core part of what we do with A Day of Hope is deliver a box of food directly to the front doorstep of families.  

You might elect to skip this element and have the families come to your location to pick up the food.  I can honestly say one of the most special elements of A Day of Hope is the fact that we go to the families and give them the food at their home.  We show up to serve them regardless of who they are, what they look like, or what their circumstances might be.  And when volunteers deliver the food to families at their home, the volunteers see parts of our city that many of them didn’t even know exist.  They see just how impoverished some families are and realize the significance of the work we do.

There is a price we pay every year to make it possible for our volunteers to do this.  The price is that many of us spend countless hours and many late nights creating maps to the families’ homes.  Mapping the families for A Day of Hope is probably the most meticulous and detailed part of the entire project.  This takes energy and massive amounts of time.

As I said in the previous section, we have three separate ways people can register for a box of food. They can register with me, at the church we partner with, or at a local food bank.  When you allow families to register at multiple locations, you need to be really careful because some families might register at more than one location, not realizing they are signing up for the same thing or not trusting one place to follow through on its commitment.

To ensure that we don’t have two or three boxes of food going to the same family, I put all the registration cards in alphabetical order by name to look for duplicates.  Once I have filtered through the same names and found duplicates, I throw the duplicates away.  The next step is to put all the registration cards in order by street address.  This helps me figure out if there are any people who have different names but registered for a basket at the same address.  

Some of the homes have multiple families living there, so if two different families register for a basket of food at the same address, I call the family (which is a reason we ask for their phone number on their registration card) and ask what the circumstances are that caused them to request two boxes of food.  If the families are planning to eat Thanksgiving dinner together, I tell them we can only give them one box.  It’s important to note that I “tell” them they will only receive one box of food, I don’t “ask” if they could get by on only one.  You’re the leader of A Day of Hope, and you need to make those tough decisions about what’s best for all the people you serve.  If we allow them to receive two boxes of food, that’s one less family we can serve elsewhere.  

After I have all the duplicates sorted out, I’m ready to map the families.  I start by sorting all the registration cards by geographical area.  If you’re serving a large area, you can probably do this by sorting the cards by zip code or by city.  If you’re serving a small area, you’ll need someone who knows the area well to help you sort the cards.  I put the cards which are geographically located near each other in chunks of five because it takes volunteers about 45 minutes to deliver five boxes and the average car can’t hold much more than five boxes of our food. 

We use Google Maps to map our families.  There are other services out there, but we use Google because it’s the simplest and most effective.  When working with volunteers, simple is successful.  We map five families at a time and attach those five registration cards to the back of the map.  When you’re preparing hundreds of maps it’s easy to make mistakes, so we always keep the original cards on the back of the map in case there’s an error on the Google map.  It’s also nice to have the registration card in case the volunteers arrive at the home and no one is home.  Then the volunteers can easily call the family and try to find a way to get them the food.


Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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