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October 19, 2020

Taking Care of Others is a Beautiful Thing

It started with a simple message.

“If you or someone you know is immunocompromised or unable to shop for groceries, we’ll pick up and deliver groceries to you at no cost.”

That note was sent to the entire Bitwise team the morning of Sunday, March 15, 2020. The sender? Jake Soberal, our Co-Founder and CEO. Truth be told, our team was still reeling from a lot of things — COVID cases, two weeks of upcoming remote work, and so many unknowns. The decision to close our physical offices and shift to a work-from-home model was made by Bitwise’s CEOs to help enforce social distancing and manage the growing spread of COVID-19. In the midst of so much uncertainty, this message meant so much. As companies across the Central Valley and country were closing their doors and bracing for impact, our CEOs were looking for ways to help others. 

The evolution of that simple message was unknown at the time. Seven months later, we can trace an incredible journey that touches thousands of people in multiple cities. It’s the story of choosing to take care of each other.

Soon after that initial message, the CEOs asked if it was possible to open that offer up to anyone in Fresno. After all, if we could coordinate getting groceries to our team, why couldn’t we do that with local families in need? Angelica Cano, Director of Marketing, was part of the small group notified via text message about the grocery offer. “I was first in awe of Bitwise,” she remembered. “Secondly, I was terrified because it seemed like it could turn into something gigantic in no time at all … and it did!” 

That same day — a matter of hours later — Bitwise announced on social media that we were offering to pick up and deliver groceries to individuals and families in need, with a focus on the immunocompromised or unable to shop for themselves.

It wasn’t an easy start – things were messy to begin with. Who was willing to deliver groceries? How were we going to track requests? What if we couldn’t find an item on our list? Anyone have a lead on toilet paper? But instead of dwelling on the questions, we got our hands into the mess and started working, answering questions and building a system along the way. In the words of Laura Splotch, a Geekwise Driver who helped deliver groceries from day one, “I was ready to help out!”

The original idea was to provide an email address and “hotline” that people could reach to request a grocery delivery and the items they needed. On the other end, we had a small team of Bitwise team members manually typing requests into a spreadsheet and assigning volunteers a specific grocery list and delivery address. Like an emergency department, we were in full triage mode.

Responses began pouring in. A single mother in desperate need of diapers and baby formula. An elderly diabetic woman who needed a specific diet and food items. A family requesting meals for their children. Behind the scenes, Bitwise volunteers started to venture out into the city shopping and fulfilling grocery requests – and this was still day one! “My son, Justice, and I shopped together,” Laura recalled. “He even got his Boy Scout Citizenship Badge helping deliver orders! Everyone was so grateful.”

By day two, a dispatch center was set up with a handful of Bitwise volunteers organizing and streamlining our grocery request spreadsheet. Sal Lucatero, Community Events Coordinator for Bitwise, Carley Feil, Director of Coworking, and Chris Rocha, Executive Assistant – three folks from different Bitwise worlds – came together to make sure our volunteer team knew what to get and where to go. In constant communication with one another, we watched grocery delivery orders get handed off to folks who were overwhelmed with gratitude.

“There was a sense of disbelief. People in the community couldn’t comprehend that we weren’t a nonprofit or funded by a government agency. They didn’t understand why a technology company was doing this for it’s community.​”

– Sal Lucatero

“I was initially asked if I’d like to work on a ‘one-to-two day project’ for Jake as an air traffic controller,” said Chris. “The next day, I was the only one working on Take Care’s intake, receiving calls from three counties on my cell phone!” Luckily, backup came quickly, and the dispatch team grew. 

“Being on the dispatch team was a huge effort on many levels,” Carley recalled. “We were in charge of looking at the requestor’s location, item list, and phone number while assigning a volunteer who lived near that person to go shopping and deliver their groceries.”

On day three, Fresno issued a shelter-in-place order. That along with local press coverage meant requests skyrocketed. The dispatch team began working around the clock to intake grocery requests and get them fulfilled. It was obvious this was going to last a while, but our team had already started working on ways to better our process for the long term.

Just 24 hours after our initial announcement, David Akina, Developer Fellow at Geekwise Academy, and his Salesforce Cohort volunteered to develop a full-on matchmaking system to automate the existing process. “In two and a half days, the Salesforce Cohort designed and built out workflows to manage new and existing requests, complete with automatic notifications,” David said. Meanwhile, the Bitwise Brand team began naming the effort, creating a website to help the community request groceries, and developing a marketing plan to share the offer.

What was once known as the Bitwise Grocery Relief Initiative was now Take Care. And Take Care was born when we shifted from jotting down a grocery list from someone on the phone, to an automated piece of software that did that work for us – so we could focus on getting groceries to people in need. 

Take Care officially launched with a brand-new website and application on March 20th – five days after Jake’s initial message to the Bitwise team. The new additions aimed at making it easier to deliver groceries to those in need across Fresno, Tulare, and Madera counties. By the end of the first week, more than 150 families received meals through Take Care.

“Recipients were incredibly thankful for their delivery. I’ve gotten people virtually in tears, thanking God at each drop off.”

– Carley Feil

Our local nonprofit partner, Neighborhood Industries, caught wind of what we were doing and was brought onboard to help provide more volunteers. “Bitwise has been connected with Neighborhood Industries for a long time. We were in close contact with them when the pandemic first hit and we are always eager to help solve problems,” said Channelle Charest, Bitwise’s Executive Director of Growth. Bitwise also announced a $100,000 investment to help keep Take Care running, and received a $50,000 grant from ReFED’s COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund to support our ongoing efforts. ReFED is a national nonprofit with a holistic view of the food system, working to advance solutions to reduce the amount of food that goes uneaten. They launched the ReFED COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund to get critical financial support to organizations working to get otherwise wasted food to the people who need it most during the COVID-19 crisis.

All of a sudden, we had a fully built out assembly line that included an intake team, dispatch, production, and delivery. “In true Bitwise fashion, we knew that we were in for a wild ride making sure this was logistically possible,” Sal recalled. “But we came together as a team and built a plan that not only kept our team safe, but allowed us to get groceries to community members from Fresno all the way to Orange Cove, Porterville, Squaw Valley, and beyond.”

From March through April, the Take Care process was refined, including the addition of Central California Food Bank as a partner. “Central California Food Bank is the pillar of food distribution in the county,” Channelle said. “We knew if we were going to be efficient, they were an essential partner to have.” Take Care also shifted from custom delivery orders to prepackaged grocery boxes that included supplies and ingredients for healthy meals that could feed families of 5-6 for several days. This allowed Take Care to serve people faster, making sure more families had access to groceries during the ongoing pandemic. 

In just one month, Take Care served 3,000 families and provided 18,000+ meals in three counties.

“Bitwise always thinks in terms of technology. Getting people necessary resources in a state of emergency is not a new problem, but there are always ways to improve the solutions. Since the pandemic restricted so many of the existing practices for food distribution, we had to think quickly and creatively.”

– Channelle Charest

With this in mind, we went one step further – why not take this new software tool, enhance it, and share it with other organizations?

The Shift3 Technologies team began building off the original Salesforce product to create a customizable and innovative cloud-based platform to track and manage every aspect of a food-supply business model. “The functionality of Take Care applies to any type of non-profit or business that is managing intake, inventory, tracking volunteers, donation requests, and needing a way to simply and efficiently track that information,” said Keith Jizmejian, Business Development Manager at Shift3 Technologies. Organizations like food pantries, disaster response organizations or nonprofits can use Take Care to automate their process, while capturing valuable insights. The Shift3 Team began offering demos and Take Care is now being adopted across the country to help NGOs and other entities do more good, for more people.

Take Care was off and rolling in the Central Valley. At its peak, the program was receiving close to 500 requests a day. On June 1st, two and half months after the first message about groceries, Take Care was officially absorbed and elevated by two local nonprofits, Neighborhood Industries and the Central California Food Bank, and rebranded as Fresno Cares. “We used the data collected during Take Care to design Fresno Cares, and are utilizing the Salesforce software to serve our community,” said Ricky Bravo, Development Director at Neighborhood Industries. “Fresno Cares seeks to continue servicing Fresno residents and organizations in 2021 – while also providing workforce development services to individuals receiving CalFresh food stamp benefits.” Together, these organizations will allow the program to serve the community through this crisis and beyond.

“It’s easy to love your community, but it’s an entirely different ball game to show up for it in the scariest of moments,” said Angelica Cano, Director of Marketing. “When many companies were going into safety mode, Bitwise was standing up and looking for ways to help. It’s changed how I function – and want to function – in moments of fear.”

Life was very different back in March when Take Care began. The uncertainty of the future months, where the pandemic was heading, and whether life would ever return to normal loomed in the forefront of all of our minds. This experience taught us a lot of things – like which grocery store will always have eggs in stock, and how to best organize massive amounts of data in a simple spreadsheet. We learned to rely on each other when things get tough, and that it’s okay to ask for help when we need it. 

But perhaps above all else, we learned that when you extend kindness to others, it helps ground you. It gives you something solid to stand upon, if only for a moment. In a season when the world feels uncontrollable and uncertain, we remember we still control our ability to help others – and that taking care of others is a truly beautiful thing.

Take Care has provided approximately 1 million meals to individuals and families since March, and continues to operate as Fresno Cares through the California Food Bank and Neighborhood Industries. If you or someone you know would like to request a grocery box delivery, click here. In addition, Take Care is available as a software solution to nonprofits and businesses focused on food distribution. To learn more and request a demo, click here.

Leah Sadoian is a writer for Bitwise Industries, digital content creator, and Central Valley native. She primarily writes marketing material, website content, and narratives for the Bitwise Stories series. In her free time, Leah enjoys a cold IPA, Law and Order SVU reruns, and spending time with her cat, Marge.