Some Background on the Missoula Foodbank


Some Background.  Missoula is a small city of about 100,000 people in the western portion of Montana.  It is not exactly the most dynamic place I've lived when it comes to economic activity.

The area has a foodbank that barely helps stem the tide of hunger.

Their basic setup is that food is collected from individual and institutional donors.  It is placed in the foodbank so that people can come through and shop for free.  There are definitely restrictions placed on how they must shop.  Standard policy is that a single household can only come to the foodbank once each month.  Though, there are situations where someone from a household can come a couple additional times.

The MFB has a paper form they have people fill out when they are looking to get food.  The basic contents of the form include the following.

  • name of the person representing the household
  • location of the household
  • all people in the household requesting food
    • number influences how much can be taken
  • information about gender
  • information about racial background
  • whether the household has a single parent
  • how long household rep has lived in the county
  • description of current housing situation
    • renter
    • owner
    • staying with others
    • traveling through
    • staying in car/tent
  • monthly mortgage/rent
    • does this include utilities
  • is monthly mortgage/rent subsidized from other sources
  • determine any state child care supplements
  • delineate sources of income outside of employment
  • assessing whether food stamps are received
    • how much
    • determine whether household rep has tried to get food stamps
  • questions about people in the household that are working
    • assess monetary impacts
  • determining medical insurance
  • years of education for the household rep
  • determining what financial impact most influenced need for food bank
  • how the household rep got to the foodbank
  • information on past visits to the foodbank are also accumulated in the database

The people that administer the MFB like to have at least some reports about who they are serving.  Obviously, there is a fair amount of data that accumulates.

Database Organization.  So how should one develop the database?

The director of the MFB was already fairly familiar with Access when I met with her.  She had already decided that the database and appropriate user interfaces should be developed in Access. 

The director also told me that there had been a variety of volunteers over the years who had tried to develop this in Access, but they had never gotten it completely working.  One of their main difficulties had to do with searching through past records to make sure they were updating the appropriate clients.  Apparently no one had been able to implement this or other features.

I tried to point out that using Access like she planned was going to guarantee that the database could only be used on one machine.  The director definitely didn't want to be dealing with networking computers or network capable databases.