YHHAP just received a request for advice from former co-coordinator Efan. I’ve pasted the e-mail below–if you have any thoughts, please contact her at email@example.com. Get brainstorming!
Here’s the story in brief:
I’m here in China for the next 10 months working at a participatory documentary center started by filmmaker Jian Yi (a 2009 Yale World Fellow). But this place does way more than documentary.
Some other projects include rural architecture, where some landscape & architecture artists help rural villagers design new houses at no cost, and build them at low cost using sustainable materials. There’s also oral histories, where we find really really old people around here, and ask them about their lives (members of the original Chinese Communist Army, etc.)
One of our newly started projects is a *rice charity project*. The Chinese name for the project is “A Spoonful of Rice.” English name still TBD. Basically, we ask people around the city of Ji’an to commit to donating rice (or other cooking materials, like beans, oil, etc) once, twice, or 4 times a month. People can donate anywhere from a spoonful (which is closer to a cupful, since Chinese ‘spoons’ are more like ladles) to several kilograms of rice. Our volunteers collect the rice from the donors’ houses and then distribute it to needy households. But, a huge component is simply visiting these households–many of which consist of lonely old ladies–and giving them some company and good cheer. We usually hear about needy households from word-of-mouth and other sorts of networks such as church charity groups. Donor households often contact us to join our donation network. The Chinese attitude towards civic involvement & community service is very very different from that in the US. We are hoping that our project can serve as a sort of launching pad for people to get involved in civic activities, and help cultivate a habit of service and caring. We believe that the desire to contribute exists in many places, but that the main thing lacking is a central focal point or organization to facilitate service.
We basically have a 3-step process:
1) Call up donor households to confirm a time when we can come by their house to collect rice
2) Visit donor households to collect rice – Volunteers usually travel by city bus to individual neighborhoods, and then go it on foot
3) Call up recipient households to confirm a time when we can come by their house to drop off rice
4) Deliver rice to individual recipient households, or simply visit recipient households – Volunteers usually travel by city bus, then go on foot
Two caveats of our program are that we don’t accept large one-time donations (if possible, we like to cultivate long-term relationships and an ongoing consciousness about social giving) and that we don’t accept monetary donations (only food items). So far, this program has been steadily growing, and we’ve gotten coverage from several print & broadcast media sources already.
We’ve found thus far that our combined collection and delivery costs often exceed the cost of the items that we have collected.
*I wanted to see if you guys had any thoughts on how we might solve this problem?*
Here are a couple of possible solutions that we are discussing:
1) Talk to the city bus company (it’s all state-owned) and see if we can get free bus rides for our volunteers (identified by a badge and/or t-shirt, and only during designated times).
2) Talk to local markets or other public and easily-accessible spaces to see if they might be willing to serve as collection spots for us — however, this means we would lose the face-to-face contact between our volunteers and the donor families
3) Find some sort of public space where we could go set up a little stand at during designated times so people could bring by their rice donations.
4) Try to significantly increase our donor base so that we can collect more rice each time we go out collecting
Some other questions we are grappling with:
1) What happens in winter, when it gets super cold? Will our volunteers be able to safely travel during this time?
2) How can we plan for the growth of this project? We can’t simply do what we’ve been doing, just on a larger scale.
Will we eventually need a bigger storage space for donations? (we’re currently using the documentary center office)
How will we get in touch with donor & recipient families? (we’re currently calling up every single household every single week to arrange for donation/drop-off times)
I truly welcome any sorts of comments, ideas, advice, suggestions, or experience that you may have.
Best of luck with YHHAP in the upcoming year!