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Toyota helps increase efficiency and reach of VNA Meals on Wheels with new mobile app

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Did you know that close to 10,000 senior citizens throughout Dallas County experience hunger or food insecurity each day? Many of these members of our community are living alone with limited financial resources or a disability that prevents them from leaving the house without assistance. For cases such as these, the Visiting Nurse Association of Texas (VNA) is determined to help.

Its Meals on Wheels program — which last year celebrated its 50th anniversary serving Dallas County — manages the delivery of hot, nutritious meals freshly prepared in its commercial kitchen to 5,000 homebound seniors each weekday. It’s all part of its mission to help people age with dignity and independence at home. But it’s a big job, with numerous logistical concerns. Enter the Toyota Production System Support Center team (TSSC).

In 2017, the TSSC began working with VNA Meals on Wheels. Utilizing the basic concepts of the Toyota Production System (TPS), the TSSC team works with other businesses and nonprofit organizations to find ways to enhance and streamline processes.  

Shortly after reviewing the scheduling and routing process at Meals on Wheels, the TSSC team recommended focusing on ways to distribute meals faster and more efficiently. But that was taken a step further in 2018 when a smartphone application was developed by Credera, a Dallas-based consulting firm focused on strategy, transformation, data and technology.

With support from Lyda Hill Philanthropies and Toyota North America, the app became a reality. Close to 150 Toyota volunteers test-drove the new app, using it to provide food, conversation and a daily safety check to seniors in Dallas County.

“We knew when we moved our headquarters to North Texas that we wanted to make an impact in our community,” says Frank Noel, general manager, Toyota Enterprise Strategy. “Meals on Wheels was a logical area of focus because one of our big focuses at Toyota is mobility for all.”  

He explains that according to Toyota, mobility extends beyond developing great products for transportation. “It means any kind of mobility at all. Like getting meals to seniors. So, we looked at all the great work of Meals on Wheels and decided to look at how we could get more meals distributed,” Noel says.

Prior to the app development, a lot of time and paperwork was devoted to helping volunteers figure out the best delivery routes and recording details of each day’s deliveries, such as who received meals and who didn’t answer their door. All those pieces of paper were taken back to VNA where someone else entered all that data into a computer. It was a system that got the job done, but one with tremendous potential for streamlining and improvement.

With the new app, volunteers can view all the information about their clients on the day of delivery through an easy-to-use interface, and they can navigate from one stop to the next via their phone’s GPS and mapping features. They can mark whether meals were delivered or undelivered and enter feedback they receive from clients for the VNA Meal on Wheels staff to read and respond to.

Noel has volunteered for VNA Meals on Wheels since the pre-app days, so he really appreciates the upgraded experience. “The app also gives you tips on how to communicate with the seniors and questions to ask. It might show that it’s their birthday so that gives us another way to connect and make them feel special,” he says.

Making the volunteer experience more efficient can also reduce the need for staff-member deliveries, allowing the organization to save money that can be used in further service to the community.

The technology collaboration among VNA Meals on Wheels, Credera, Lyda Hill Philanthropies and Toyota North America goes beyond the app alone. “It really is a full technology system that this team helped create. The app is just one of the pieces,” says Jennifer Austin, VNA managing director of Development and Communications. “There's also a volunteer portal that they helped create. We have 20 different drop sites throughout the county. So, all the meals are made at our Haggerty Kitchen and then they go out to those places where staff are there to check them in.”

The system also includes a back-office portal where all the scheduling takes place and information goes back and forth between volunteers and staff. “It’s such a great resource for the community,” Noel says. “And it's one of those things I tell people that when you deliver once, and you see how easy it is and how big of an impact you can have, you get the itch to do more.”

In order to qualify for VNA Meals on Wheels, a person must be over 60 or disabled, be unable to drive or leave home without assistance, have limited financial resources, and live in Dallas County. To learn more about VNA Meals on Wheels, visit vnatexas.org/our-services/meals-on-wheels/.