Thrifty Foods Sendial, and the People who make it Work

By Rita Button

Helen Parker

Helen Parker

“I like to feel as if we’re shopping for us, for our families.” Helen Parker, Sendial Monday and Tuesday team captain and volunteer, James Bay store.

“I always think: ‘What if it were my grandparents we were helping?’.” Katie Pelletier, volunteer support, customer support James Bay store.

“Never be quick to judge. Be curious. Why is something happening?” Lynanne Smith, Sendial program coordinator, Thrifty Foods Head Office.

I talked with each of these people involved in Thrifty Foods Sendial program, and unbeknownst to the others, each made similar statements about the inherent joy and need to help others. Thrifty Foods Sendial program, an initiative whose purpose is to get the groceries to people who are unable to get them by themselves, started by Alex Campbell Sr., founder of Thrifty Foods and Prue Cunningham, customer and seniors advocate, is thirty-one years old this year.
If you have mobility issues or other weaknesses preventing you from shopping your own groceries, the Sendial program is for you. Check it out on-line by searching Sendial on-line or call customer service 250-544-1234 to discover how to become a part of this program. The cost is a minimum order of $25.00 plus a five dollar delivery charge.

Helen, a twelve year veteran and captain for Monday and Tuesday Sendial volunteers, enjoys the work. Sticking to the same weekly schedule, the Monday/Tuesday volunteers phone Sendial customers on Monday, generally around the same time so that customers know to be available for the calls. On Tuesday, volunteers shop the groceries which get delivered later that same day. This pattern is repeated with different teams of volunteers on Wednesday/ Thursday and Friday. If the shopper cannot find the item on the list, she/he will call the customer to ask about a substitution. Never are products substituted unless the volunteers have made contact with the customer. Katie Pelletier, who supports this program in the James Bay store emphasizes, “It’s what’s best for the customer. Always.”

Katie Pelletier

Katie Pelletier

When shoppers cannot find the product or figure out what the person calling for the list actually recorded, they problem solve without rancor. Helen recalls, “Sometimes, I promise myself I’ll go back to finish up the list since it’s much the same as the previous week’s, but then something happens, and I forget to review my work. That’s how mistakes happen, so either I or the shopper has to call the customer to see what was meant or wanted.” 

Sendial shoppers take care to choose fresh produce, avoiding the rubbery beans or the soft tomatoes. They check due dates—especially in dairy, salad bags, and deli items. Never do the shoppers want to select less than the best for their customers.

Sometimes the wrong item gets delivered, or the frozen portion of the order gets left behind. When a James Bay customer phones to let the store know about omissions, it’s likely Katie they’re talking to. She figures out how to make it right, and the program continues, missing a beat from time to time, but rarely missing so many that the whole tune is transformed!
The volunteers who phone for the orders often become connected to their customers. If the order cannot be delivered, follow-up occurs to determine the problem. One customer, for example, had a medical appointment which was a few hours before the groceries were to be delivered. However, he was sent directly to the hospital to check on a few things—all the while worrying about his grocery delivery. When he returned home, he called Customer Care, and everyone was relieved. They had been worrying about him. That’s why an alternate name is necessary on the application form. An employee will call that person to make sure things are okay.

And, one time, they weren’t. A volunteer did not arrive for her shift as expected, and wasn’t responding to telephone calls—totally out of character—so Katie called the non-emergency police number. VicPD sent someone over to check. Sadly, the person had passed away. When Katie told the other volunteers the news, they insisted that Katie attend the funeral with them. It was a heart-stopping moment for Katie who realized, at that point, the respect and friendship she felt for the volunteers was reciprocated. And she’d been on the job for only a year. 

Katie’s job is one of organization and communication. She ensures that the right orders go at the right time. She groups the orders so that the drivers deliver to one area in each of their forays into the community. Meeting the trucks at the loading dock, she ensures the drivers are informed of the idiosyncrasies that may be waiting for them. The drivers take note of changes in customer behavior as well, and will tell Katie what they have noticed. Katie’s busy, but she loves the work. When the volunteer Captain needs help with a challenge, Katie is there to help at the James Bay Store. She meets the challenges with eyes wide open and brain in high gear. Making it right is her mantra—because that is what she would do for her grandparents.  
And then there’s Lynanne who is in charge of the entire program for the island. A perfectionist, she’d like to create an ideal world, but realizing the impossibility of that on this chaotic planet, she settles for making as great a difference as she can.

Lynanne Smith

Lynanne Smith

She realizes the immensity of the volunteers’ work: Thrifty Foods has 30,000 items in each store, so it’s not simply going to the store and picking up some milk. It’s a matter of knowing which brand, the percentage of butter fat, the kind of container, the size of the jug etc. When a person is expecting a certain article, it’s upsetting to receive the “wrong one”; the person giving his/her grocery list order likely doesn’t realize the immensity of choice and the need to narrow down the possibilities. Helen would concur. Yogurt and cereal, she insists are challenging.

As well, just finding the article in the store can be daunting. Cheese, for example, is found at the deli counter, in the cases near the deli, at the back of the store in the dairy section and sometimes in a temporary display seemingly unrelated to cheese! It’s tough.

But Lynanne worked for Isobel Mackenzie who has recently been appointed the province’s seniors’ advocate from whom, Lynanne insists, she learned a lot. However, I’m betting that the building blocks were already in place. Lynanne’s need to understand the reasons for problems that occur before jumping to conclusions, her appreciation for the people who make the teams in each of the stores and her understanding that all of us are flawed in some way shape or form and yet all of us enjoy appreciation make her pretty much perfect for the job—so she does experience perfectionism in her life.

Lynanne’s wisdom surfaces when she comments on the volunteer program might be part of the solution for loneliness that sometimes pervades aging people’s lives. The volunteers bond, enjoy coffee together after their shifts, and become a part of each other’s lives. Thus, they stay in their own homes for a longer period of time, thereby contributing to the quality of their own lives. People who have studied aging often maintain that staying in your own home increases the quality of your life. Thrifty Foods Sendial program contributes to this.

Lynanne agrees that it takes effort and that the teams need support, but noted that of the current 558 volunteer base, 173 (31%) have been volunteering for over 10 years, many for more than fifteen, twenty or twenty-five years! They love their Sendial role and are dedicated to providing excellent customer service.

Company-wide, Thrifty Foods puts through 700 orders from twenty-four stores per week. In James Bay, Thrifty Foods Sendial delivers more than fifty orders weekly from a base of seventy-five registered supported by a thirty-one member volunteer team.

All three commented on the Christmas party which Thrifty Foods hosts for the volunteers. It’s their way of saying thanks, we couldn’t do this without you, and we know that you have gone beyond what anyone would have expected you to do.

Each person who talked to me represented the whole team. Each one emphasized “it’s not just me; it’s all of us.” Each one appreciates the others who make the work not only possible but also enjoyable.

If you’d like to be a volunteer on one of the most positive teams in Victoria, call 250-544-1234 to talk to someone in Customer Care. Or you could go to the website and fill out the application form.   

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