The ability to feed the hungry involves more than just a generous heart and a willing spirit.
As the largest Feeding America food bank in the United States, the Houston Food Bank annually serves 122 million nutritious meals through community partners, including food pantries, soup kitchens, social service providers, and schools in 18 Southeast Texas counties. Accomplishing such a feat is an organizational challenge, to say the least.
“Our core is really about logistics,” said Brian Greene, Houston Food Bank president, in an interview for the city’s Channel 2 television news recently. “We receive donations of surplus food from all over the country, and we’re distributing product through a network of about 1,500 partners on a daily basis.”
As a non-profit, the Houston Food Bank relies on donations and federal aid to fund its efforts. To keep with its pledge of efficiency, the food bank relies on a fleet of Kenworth trucks to support its effort. Its medium-duty Kenworths are used for pick-up and deliveries throughout Houston and the surrounding area.
Now, throw in a storm of unprecedented proportion: Hurricane Harvey, which at its peak left one-third of Houston underwater and forced tens of thousands of people out of their homes. Then one will begin to understand the impact upon relief agencies such as the Houston Food Bank.
Prior to Harvey, it did the job with some 50 trucks, a mix of makes and models, some leased; most kept in service until they began to see a significant increase in maintenance expense and a decrease in reliability.
Following Harvey, Feeding America was awarded $7.5 million from the Justin J Watt Foundation, (J J Watt, from the Houston Texans football team) from which Houston Food Bank received a portion. It put some of those funds toward the purchase of additional vehicles to increase fleet infrastructure.
“As bad as Harvey was, it was a gift to us because we had so many people from all over the world give money to us to help get us through the crisis,” said Hugh Tollett, transportation supervisor for the Houston Food Bank. “As soon as it happened, we cranked things up and made the decision to buy the trucks we needed.”
The first call was to Performance Kenworth in Houston, and the resulting order was for 35 new medium- and heavy-duty Kenworth trucks: six T270s bodied with reefers, 12 T370 tandem-axle units with reefers, eight T370 tractors to haul beverage trailers converted into vending units, and nine Kenworth T680s to pull trailers including dry vans and reefers.
Medium-duty T270s and T370s are equipped with PACCAR PX-7 and PX-9 engines, respectively. Allison automatic transmissions were installed in the Kenworth medium-duty trucks with Eaton Fuller Advantage transmissions in the T680s.
The food bank chose Kenworth based on the brand’s reputation for dependability.
“We look for equipment that’s going to last,” said Tollett. “I like the way Kenworth trucks are built and how they hold together on the road. Kenworth also has an excellent warranty program.”
“From the get-go, Houston Food Bank expressed that they are feeding the hungry so they can’t afford for their trucks to break down,” said Drew Vest, a Performance Kenworth account manager. “We really pushed our dealership as a whole, which includes parts and service, not just the high-quality trucks. They know that if there is an issue with a truck we will do our best to reduce any potential downtime.”
Within any given month, the food bank fleet covers more than 113,000 miles over 7,600 stops. Most of that is within the city, so automatics are the most driver-friendly. According to Virgil Scott, logistics manager for the Houston Food Bank, automatic transmissions also present fewer maintenance concerns.
Drivability was also a big factor in selecting the T270 and T370 models. The majority of donation pick-up and deliveries are inside the city, so trucks need to be easy to maneuver in close quarters. The food bank uses the T370 as a bobtail, for example, for its Kids Cafe program, delivering hot meals to Boys & Girls Clubs that are not set up to receive large combinations. Kenworth medium-duty conventionals, being standard with a 50-degree wheel cut, solved that issue by providing a tight turning radius.
Today, the food bank is operating at triple its previous output, each day distributing 750,000 pounds of supplies—the equivalent of 18 trailer loads.
“It’s definitely neat to see their new Kenworth trucks throughout Houston helping distribute food to the hungry,” said Vest.
“The trucks do everything we need and ask them to do. Everything we have, we use every single day,” said Scott. “Hopefully something like Hurricane Harvey doesn’t happen again. But, if it does, we’re prepared.”
Visit www.kenworth.com to learn more.