SFF How To Guide – Part I

A How-To Guide

I) FAQ’s

What is Scouting for Food?

Scouting for Food is a food solicitation and collection campaign run by the Boy Scouts of America, usually in conjunction with a large local food chain (locally, Safeway or Giant). It has been run every year since 1988. Last year, Scouts in the National Capital Area Council collected about 1,200,000 pounds of food, making SFF by far the largest food solicitation and collection campaign in the Washington metropolitan area (not that we get any positive press for it). Note that Scouts in (our) Chain Bridge District collected about 70,000 pounds of food last year.

Who gets the food?

Across the National Capital Area Council, most of the collected food goes to the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) in the District of Colombia. CAFB in turn sorts all the collected food and relays it to hundreds of helping organizations across the entire metropolitan area for a minor shipping and handling fee per pound delivered. Here in Chain Bridge District, however, the food goes to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) in South Arlington. Note that despite the name, AFAC delivers food to families and other helping organizations throughout Northern Virginia – not just in Arlington.

When is Scouting for Food?

There are three critical dates, with a fourth critical date possible. The three “for sure” dates are: Thursday, October 10th, 2002 (Map Area Sign Ups and Bag Pick Up at the District Roundtable); Saturday, November 9th, 2002 (Bag Distribution); and Saturday, November 16th, 2002 (Bag Pickup). Some years the bags are not available at the October Roundtable, in which case a pickup date (the possible fourth critical date) and location will be announced via Chainemail and CubMail.

II) Quick Overview

The Unit decides whether to participate. If yes, how many people will be available? The Unit selects an area (size commensurate with the available manpower) in which to distribute and pick up bags, and marks it on the District’s master maps at the October Roundtable. The Unit picks up bags, drafts up sub-area maps for their Scout pairs, and (optional) drafts up and prints off insert flyers for the bags. Scout pairs (and an escorting adult) distribute bags to every house in the Unit’s area. (Optional) The Unit makes and posts SFF signs around its area, as a reminder to residents. The Unit collects as many boxes as possible to sort and store food in. Scout pairs (and an escorting adult with a large vehicle) collect bags, sorting as they collect. If American Flags and Toys for Tots were also solicited, they are separated out during the collection. Each vehicle drops off all collected and sorted food to the collection center at Westover Baptist. If collected, American Flags and Toys for Tots are dropped off at the December Roundtable.

III) Step-by-Step Planning and Execution (i.e., the Excruciating Details)
(Click here for the short version)

A) Unit Decides Whether to Participate or Not.

As noted in the preamble, I hope every Unit will decide to help this year. If you have an activity planned for one or even both weekends covering SFF Saturdays, you can still participate. Option I would be to use those Scouts and Adults who are not participating in your Week I activity to distribute bags. The Scouts and Adults who are not participating in your Week II activity would then collect the bags. [This is what Troop 111 does just about every year now.] Option II would be to combine with another Unit that has the same issue, but on the opposite weekend. In this case, one Unit takes the first week, and the second Unit takes the second week. This latter option is easily arranged with neighboring Troops or with Troops and their feeder Cub Packs. Option III is to distribute bags later than the first Saturday, that is, anytime Sunday or even just after school early the following week. On the latter option, however, less time is available for safe distribution (Daylight Savings Time is no longer in effect during Scouting for Food, so it gets dark around 5:30pm).

B) Unit Determines How Many Scouts are Available Each Week.

Most Units will have about 80 percent of their Scouts available on either weekend; the remainder have irreconcilable sports or other extracurricular conflicts. Note that the basic distribution and collection responsibilities usually take about 2 hours on the respective Saturday mornings (typically 8:30 – 10:30, though some Units prefer to work later). So if you have a Troop of 50 active Scouts, you could reasonably expect to have 40 Scouts available. If you do the “trade-off” option, you could reasonably expect to have 20 – 25 Scouts available (some Scouts enjoy doing both weekends, and volunteer even if not “required.”) Note that Troop 111 mandates SFF service for every Scout who wishes to go on any of our 3 skiing trips each Winter; this tends to ensure a very high rate of “volunteerism.” I suggest you do something similar.

The number of “Working Groups” is equal to half the number of available Scouts (each working group consists of 2 Scouts and 1 Adult Escort (driver/monitor); more on this later). So if you have 30 Scouts, you have 15 Working Groups. For obvious reasons, you want the same number of Scouts each weekend, and if necessary you should work to switch Scouts from one weekend to the other, or recruit extra Scouts for the smaller group, in order to get equivalency. Cub Scout Leaders may wish to have larger number of Scouts in their Working Groups, depending on the ages of the boys.

C) Determine if your Unit has a “Traditional” Distribution/Collection Area.

Many Units have distributed and collected bags in the exact same areas for years (in 111’s case, since 1988 for our core area). Obviously, these Units have “squatter’s rights” to these zones. Why? – because most of them have created exact sub-area maps for all their working groups, and a capricious switch would force a tremendous amount of needless work to create new maps in an unfamiliar zone. So, if you are a novice Unit SFF Coordinator, you need to determine if your Unit has such a traditional area, and if so its exact layout and subareas. If so, your life just got a lot easier, and all that’s left in this tasking is to determine whether your traditional area is too big or too small for your available manpower.

Some Units, of course, participate in SFF only rarely or occasionally, and so don’t really have a traditional area. In such cases, you will need to work with one of the District SFF Coordinators to find a couple of last year’s uncovered areas from which to select. If you’re lucky, the area around your chartered partner (your “natural” base) was uncovered last year. If someone else already has it as a “traditional” area, you may need to take a neighborhood somewhat removed from your natural base. In Chain Bridge District, this problem exists primarily in North Arlington, where there is a high concentration of overlapping Troops and Cub Packs.

Don’t worry, there are plenty of areas to cover, and the District SFF Coordinators will work with you to find an acceptable zone.

D) Determine the Approximate Housing Density in the Area You Intend to Cover to Determine the Number of Bags per Working Group.

Although you can just hand bags to Scouts and point them in the general direction, this is extremely inefficient and will result in very uneven coverage in your zone. You need to go about things much more systematically. As noted above, the average time frame for bag distribution and bag collection is 2 hours max. The bags come in packets of 67 bags per, and it is suggested that you work in multiples of this basic Unit. If your target area is close-set houses and townhomes, a Working Group can handle about 200 homes (3 sets of bags and flyers) in 2 hours. If the area has larger homes on larger lots, figure about 135 homes (2 sets of bags and flyers). If the area has mega-homes, very large lots, and winding roads (lots of walking), drop to 67 homes (1 set of bags and flyers). And if you intend to knock on doors instead of hanging bags on them, divide your numbers by 4 (personal contact is MUCH slower!)

By the way, enclosed apartment complexes are forbidden for Scouting for Food, so don’t up your bag total to handle the super-density of such facilities. Also, you should avoid obviously low-income neighborhoods, as the rate of donations from such areas is usually very low.

E) Determine the Total Number of Bags You Need.

So, for example, if you have 17 Working Groups per weekend and your target area is medium density, that’s 17 x 2 sets = 34 sets of bags (= 578 bags). It’s always a good idea to get 10 percent more bags than you know you need, just as a backup. So in the above case, you should get 37 sets of bags.

BTW, we have a limited allocation of bags, so please do not take a massive excess “just in case.” Take what you need, and use what you take.

F) Sign Up for Your Map Area, Pick Up Bags

Sign-ups and Bag Pickups occur at the October Roundtable. It is NOT a First Come/First Serve situation. If you have a “traditional” area, you should come between 6:30 and 7:30pm to mark the master map and pick up your required number of bags. If you do not have a traditional area, you should come between 7:30 and 8pm. Hopefully, at least one of the preliminary area(s) that you arranged with Rob Beckman will still be free, and you can proceed normally. If for some reason they’re covered (e.g., a Troop expanded its traditional area), we’ll work something out on the fly.

One thing we definitely want to avoid are double (or even triple) coverages of the same areas; that’s just a waste of resources and talent for no purpose. We can work out any overlaps. Don’t walk away in frustration; we’ll work it out!

G) Develop Sub-Maps of Your Area

A sub-map is a xerox copy of your area with a specific route highlighted for one working group. So, for example, Working Group #1 has a high density zone, and you highlighted streets on their map that has about 200 homes (3 packets). Same for Working Group #’s 2 and 3. Working Group #’s 5 – 9 are in a medium density area, so have sub-maps that have about 130 homes apiece (2 packets each). And so on, until you have utilized all your working groups.

Note that it’s a good idea to have one or two “extra” submaps in case extra Scouts show up (and you’re sure you can get similar numbers the following weekend). Also, your submaps should start in the middle of your zone and work outwards; this way, you preserve your core zone every year even if the number of available Scouts drop (and your core zone will be your biggest contributors, as the residents learn to expect you every year).

How do you know how many homes in each area? Well, someone’s got to go out and count them. This can be done with two people in a car, or it can be done on a marketing survey map of your zone (Sorry, I do not know how to get such maps, but I know they exist; I did the car-counting routine). This is a fair amount of work, but fortunately you only have to do it once. Also, as noted above, this is why people can get very upset if you take over their traditional areas. Write the number of homes on each respective sub-map; this automatically tells you how many “packets” that Working Group gets (e.g., 128 homes on Sub-Map #7, so 2 packets….)

Finally, make sure you preserve master copies of your sub-maps; many of the copies you hand out to your Working Groups won’t return….

H) Decide If You Want to Create and Use Insert Flyers.

SFF Bags have informational instructions (and advertising) printed on them; however, they basically look like regular plastic grocery bags, and a lot of people think they’re just trash and end up throwing them away. This was one of the reasons why the very first SFF campaigns had Scouts knocking on doors, to explain things. Use of explanatory insert flyers (and reminder signs, see below) will at least triple your donations. People will take the time to read flyers, and they’ll post them on their refrigerators, etc. Higher percentages of returns mean more enthusiastic and willing Scouts, too – and there are few things sadder than Scouts working for hours and coming up with minimal donations.

The downside is the expense. Current prices are running about 3 cents apiece for a thousand flyers, 6 cents if you go 2-sided, and even more if you use a bright, attention grabbing color. Troop 111 pays for 1500 flyers out of the Troop treasury. If you’re lucky, perhaps you’ll have a Troop member who can xerox for free.

I) Decide If You Want to Participate In the Ancillary Campaigns.

If you use insert flyers, you can also participate in the District’s two ancillary collections: Worn-Out American Flags (for proper retirement) and Toys for Tots. This will be the third year for both campaigns on a District-wide level. If there’s one thing that the September 11th events has guaranteed, it’s that there will be thousands of worn-out American Flags to retire this year. Note that these items are kept separate from the food and turned in at the December Roundtable.

Note the Troop 111 SFF Campaign Flyer posted on the SFF Web page.

J) Print Off Your Insert Flyer

You will make your life much easier if you print your flyers in sets of 67 each, so they match up perfectly with your bag packets. If you use any other number, you’ll spend hours counting and sorting flyers.

K) Create Sign-Up Sheets for both weekends for Your Troop Meetings

If you want 30 Scouts, have 33 (10% extra) sign up, because a few will be no-shows for one reason or another. Remember 30 Scouts need 15 Adult Escorts, too, so sign up 16 or 17 Adults as well.

L) Optional – Pre-Stuff Flyers into Bags

Some Troops do this at a Troop meeting to save time on Distribution Saturday. We don’t. It’s up to you….

M) Determine Assembly Time and Place for Both Weekends

As previously noted, most Troops go with an 8:30 to 10:30 time frame.

N) Determine a Uniform Policy

Although some of the Scouts would rather be boiled in oil than be seen in public wearing a Scout Uniform, the Uniform does tend to protect them from the overly suspicious and/or outright cantankerous local residents. Even with all the negative press about the BSA, almost all local residents welcome Uniformed Scouts. I strongly recommend that your Scouts wear their Uniforms – and not buried under other layers of clothes, either; that defeats the purpose.

O) Do a Reminder Telephone Tree and/or Mass Email on the Thursday (email) or Friday (teletree) just before Distribution Saturday.

That is, unless you like hearing “I forgot” a lot.

P) Draft Up Basic Instructional Sheets for the Working Groups

Even if you have explained things at meetings, and intend to explain them again at the assembly, written instructions are an excellent reference resource for your Working Groups. Copies of Troop 111’s Basic Instructional Sheets is in the SFF Addendum Email.

Q) Assemble and Distribute Bags and Flyers

Assemble all Scouts before allowing anyone to depart, and reiterate the instructions. Do a Uniform Check, and remind the Scouts of the importance of being recognized as Scouts while “trespassing” all over Arlington and McLean (“Health and Safety”). Try to give your 3 packet sets to Working Groups with older Scouts, and smaller sets to your Working Groups with younger Scouts. Have a designated spot (unlocked car?) where extra bags and flyers will be kept in case someone runs out. Make sure each Working Group has an escorting Adult. Have an emergency contact number. Make sure all escorting Adults understand that they are to drop Scouts off directly at home when they’re finished. Remind everyone to return their sub-maps at the next Troop Meeting (yeah, Good Luck!), and to start collecting small to medium sized boxes for the collection. Explain what (if anything) you want done with leftover bags and flyers (Note – All are recyclable!)

R) Decide If You Want To Post Reminder Signs
In addition to the insert flyers, reminder signs help triple the donation level from a zone. [People forget over the course of a week!] The easiest signs to use are the U-wire/poster-board campaign signs which will be all over Arlington and McLean on Election Day, November 6th. These are fair game on Wednesday, November 6th. They are easily ripped out along the glued seams, and so can be reversed for a brand-new white surface. A staple gun or a long strip of duct tape can be used to re-seal the edges.

Note that I personally have at least 500 leftover campaign signs and U-wires if anyone wants to get some early to make reminder signs. I will be more than happy to give you as many as you want.

Use a mega marker to write in big block letters:

Scout Food
Sat. 8am

This is all that’s needed to remind people of what you’re doing, and when they should put their bags outside. Thursday afternoon is usually the optimal time to place the signs – people will notice them, but they won’t “blend into” the landscape in a day and a half.

The more signs you put up, the better your return will be. Signs should be positioned such that people driving *INTO* their neighborhoods will see them (that is, so they *FACE* incoming traffic). You want to catch people as they’re coming home – not when they’re leaving.

Keep a few signs in reserve as replacements.

This job is ideal for those Scouts who cannot assist on either Distribution or Collection Saturday. Copies of Troop 111’s Sign Instructions are posted on the SFF Web page.

S) Again, Do a Reminder Telephone Tree and/or Mass Email on the Thursday (email) or Friday (teletree) just before Collection Saturday. Again, unless you like hearing “I forgot” a lot.

T) Check Signs (Collection Friday); Reinstall as Needed

Vandalism can be a problem, and of course your most prominent and visible (and valuable) signs are the ones that will be vandalized. Troop 111 usually checks both Friday morning and again Friday afternoon. This is another ideal job for Scouts unable to work on either Saturday.

U) Assemble Week II

Assemble all Scouts before allowing anyone to depart, and reiterate the instructions. Do a Uniform Check, and again remind the Scouts of the importance of being recognized as Scouts while “trespassing” all over Arlington and McLean (Health and Safety”). Try to give your 3 packet areas to Working Groups with older Scouts AND BIGGER VEHICLES, and 1 or 2 packet areas to your Working Groups with smaller Scouts or medium sized vehicles. Make sure everyone has plenty of boxes, and understand that they are to sort the food on the fly as they collect it (cans in small boxes, glass items in different small boxes, and boxed goods in large boxes. Have an emergency contact number. Make sure all escorting Adults know where Westover Baptist is located, and also understand that they are to drop Scouts off directly at home when they’re finished. Remind everyone to return their sub-maps at the next Troop Meeting (again, Good Luck!)

V) Run “Tail End Charlie” Crews

Even with instructions on your flyers and reminder signs that state 8am, people will put out bags long after you’ve canvassed their neighborhoods. Then they get mad because “you never came.” Also, some of your reminder signs will have been missed. So you should have a few “Late Crews” completely re-cover your entire area, between 12noon and 1pm. This is not as difficult as it seems. The driver just drives down each street slowly, while two Scouts (in the vehicle) scan the houses to either side. Note that high ground clearance vehicles (like vans) are best for this duty; they allow a better vantage point. You stop only when bags or signs are spotted. Deliver these last bags to Westover up until 2pm.

For what it’s worth Troop 111 usually gets about 25 “late” bags out of 1400 or so distributed.

This is another ideal job for Scouts unable to make the earlier main Collection time.

W) Disassemble and Store SFF Reminder Signs Obviously, they can be used every year. I have a quite a few that are over 10 years old now.

X) Deliver Worn-Out American Flags and Toys for Tots to the December Roundtable. Please deliver things to Hardison Hall between 7:00 and 7:45pm.


– Dr. Bob
(Troop 111 Scoutmaster, 1998-2008)

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