Hand Up Toronto Uses Route Optimization To Help Feed Families

May 16, 2023
Close-up shot of a driver’s hands and the steering wheel of their vehicle. The phone in the driver’s left hand displays the “Routific for drivers” app starting screen.

Hand Up Toronto is a volunteer-run charity focused on battling food insecurity and delivering their services with dignity. With a small but dedicated team, the charity relies on technology to optimize its operations and maximize its impact.

This became especially important during the pandemic. Many low income households with children relied on schools for their meals during the year, so with schools closed  those families were going hungry. Hand Up switched from their regular meal programs to fill this new need. 

The response was instant: When Hand Up put the word out that they were planning to deliver groceries and essential supplies to families stuck at home, 8,000 people signed up for the service within 48 hours. Scrambling to meet this massive demand, the team arranged for UberEats to deliver to 300 homes during the first week. But because of the high fees involved, it was immediately clear this was not a long-term option.

The next week, Hand Up shifted to buying food in wholesale quantities and delivering to families’ doorsteps with a small group of volunteers. That meant diving into the world of route planning and route optimization.  “When we first launched, we were manually inputting data into limited map applications and doing our best to optimize routes,” said Executive Director Kay Castelle. “At that time we were able to deliver to eight families over 3-5 hours. We knew that it wasn’t a sustainable way to plan routes.”

Not only were their route plans inefficient, but the manual planning process alone took about 10 hours for the initial team of 12 drivers. In addition, the team ran into problems with inconsistent addresses and needed help cleaning up their data. 

“When we discovered Routific, it was a total game changer,” said Castelle. “It processes driver and family information, predicts driving time, and expertly balances delivery loads. It also enables us to foresee potential issues and track delivery performance, continually refining our process to achieve maximum impact. Its API features also allow our team to automate additional processes with custom scripts. We are now able to deliver to up to 18 families in three hours — a doubling of our delivery efficiency.

Hand Up’s last-mile delivery program served over 15,000 families during the pandemic and continues to serve over 200 families every month.

Efficient delivery routes = happy delivery drivers

Routific screenshot showing a day’s delivery routes around Toronto.
A day’s delivery routes around Toronto.

“Routific has significantly improved our volunteer team's capabilities,” said Castelle. “With complete visibility on their routes, our staff can swiftly address any challenges and deploy a substitute driver when necessary. The app also collects crucial data on successful and skipped deliveries, providing insights that help us optimize our efforts.”

The app consolidates all family information, including addresses, names, and contact details, into a driver app that’s easy for a diverse volunteer team to use. Seamless integration with Google Maps ensures hassle-free navigation without the need for manual address entry. 

As a result, Hand Up received a lot of positive feedback: “Volunteers come back telling us how amazing it was to deliver to so many families in a short window of time. It was very rewarding to them,” said Castelle. “Not only are the drivers coming back time and again, but those volunteers are referring their friends as well. We’ve learned that by optimizing and accounting for the experience of our volunteer drivers, they will come back.”

Enhanced customer experience

Clients also benefit. Routific's real-time notifications enable them to plan their days so they don’t have to wait around for their deliveries. “They receive a link that allows them to track our volunteers as they make their way, providing peace of mind and a sense of engagement,” said Castelle. “Clients can also see when a package has been delivered or skipped, staying informed every step of the way.”

The partnership with Routific has revolutionized Hand Up Toronto’s last-mile delivery program. By supercharging their operations, empowering their volunteers, and enhancing the experience for everyone involved, they  can feed even more people in need, thanks to efficient logistics and tracking. 

How to help

Hand Up Toronto is committed to discovering new ways to tackle food insecurity. If you want to join their efforts, there are two ways to help:

  1. Sign up as a volunteer by emailing volunteer@handuptoronto.org
  2. Make a donation at handuptoronto.org/donate/ 
In this article
Portrait of Suzanne Ma
Suzanne Ma
Suzanne Ma is a former journalist and published author turned co-founder at Routific, a route optimization platform. She loves to capture inspiring stories from small business entrepreneurs, and share their journeys of growth alongside Routific. As a Product Marketer, she ensures that the community stays up to date on the latest innovations at Routific.

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