Ford Fund meets pandemic-related needs of Detroit nonprofits using Ford, Lincoln drivers
DEARBORN, Mich. — From her small home office in Southeast Michigan, Samantha Bourque uses a decidedly low-tech suite of tools to keep her trains running. Namely, a white board and yellow sticky notes.
The trains comprise a fleet of Ford Transits and Lincoln Navigators filled with boxes of food kits, hot meals, household cleaning supplies and medical equipment. For the past two and a half months, they have been running just about anywhere in the south part of Michigan—from Detroit to Lansing or Port Huron and points in between.
Bourque, a Ford Fund coordinator, has transformed her home into command central, where requests for deliveries come in and assignments to drivers go out. Fast.
For Bourque and her Ford Fund colleagues there was no time to install and learn new dispatch software and tracking tools. When life changed abruptly in mid-March, Ford Fund representatives in metro Detroit began to hear from their community contacts. Senior citizens and low-income families needed help. Hospitals needed PPEs. Small local restaurants needed delivery services.
Meanwhile, Ford shuttle drivers and Lincoln chauffeurs suddenly found themselves out of work.
Within days of Ford closing its U.S. offices March 13, a patchwork of relief began to form. Employees who had never worked together found themselves thrown together on last-minute conference calls. Speed and improvisation reigned.
Bourque was tasked with gathering southeast Michigan community requests. She and colleagues Heather Taylor of Ford Land and Justin Counts of the Lincoln Personal Driver pilot program developed a system that ultimately kept many people fed, nursing home environments clean and Corktown restaurants open.
"In the beginning, it was me and a piece of paper," Bourque said. "I had to get the information out and track the deliveries. Then I went to the white board. It's not pretty, but it works."
Indeed. In its first three months, the impromptu system resulted in 285 deliveries, during which drivers transported 11,225 hot meals to hospital employees, more than 5,400 food boxes and meals to families, seniors and homeless shelters, 4,000 carry-out boxes for homeless shelters and 5,000 masks and face shields, among other supplies and equipment. Deliveries and food boxes continued through the end of the year resulting in a total of 396 deliveries and more than 8,300 food boxes by December 31.
Bob Chamberlain, a retired GM machine operator, was shuttling Ford employees between buildings on the Dearborn campus when COVID stay-at-home orders hit and he was laid off. Then Taylor, of Ford Land, called him back to make the emergency deliveries.
"I just like seeing the smiles on people's faces," Chamberlain said. "That makes my day. That's what keeps me going."
Chamberlain leads the Ford shuttle driver team and assists Taylor with dispatching other drivers. "I try to take as much off Heather as I can. She texts me what needs to be done. And I get it done."
On any given day, Chamberlain and his colleagues may pick up food kits or PPE boxes from Gleaners or the Salvation Army and deliver to community centers, nursing homes or individual residents.
"Bob is a remarkable human being," said Taylor. "He is dependable and genuinely wants what is best for the recipient. He will put himself last and just keep going."
The shuttle drivers also worked as deliverymen for Southwest Detroit diners and cafes – but with Ford paying their wages instead of the restaurants. As members of the Southwest Detroit Business Association, these restaurants are part of the neighborhood's rejuvenation. By running the restaurants' food deliveries, Ford and its drivers helped these businesses keep their doors open during the pandemic. Ford purchased and is renovating the neighborhood's anchor, the Michigan Central Station.
Over at Lincoln, Counts organizes the Navigator drivers to work largely in the same manner. When Bourque of Ford Fund receives a delivery request, she emails Counts or Taylor with details: delivery date, pick-up and drop-off locations, type of cargo and number of boxes.
Bourque's white board and color-coded sticky notes keep her straight so that all requests are handled promptly and two drivers never show up for the same delivery.
"The goal is never to deny a request," she said. "And I believe we are doing that. I feel so grateful at being a part of this. The stories we hear from the drivers and the nonprofits and the restaurants. With just a simple phone call, we are able to make a difference."
DiAnna Solomon is the Fund Development manager for Detroit Area Agency on Aging. She is one of the nonprofits that has been relying on Ford and Lincoln drivers during the stay-at-home order.
Lincoln driver Anthony Rice regularly delivers cases of PPE kits to her home where she sorts and dispatches them to area senior citizen facilities and small homecare agencies. He and other Lincoln drivers also helped deliver food kits to community centers.
"I believe with Ford's help, we have literally helped save lives by protecting direct care workers and seniors from the virus," Solomon said.
Said Rice: "Doing these deliveries gave me the feeling of contributing and supporting people on the front lines."
Counts said the nonprofit deliveries have enabled him to keep up to seven Lincoln Personal Drivers employed during the stay-at-home order. "It's good to be able to keep our drivers employed during these times."
Bourque looks over her white board and can't help but smile: "The bottom-line is everyone knows where they are supposed to be and with each run, we're making an impact on someone's life."
The COVID-19 Shuttle Program is one example of how Ford Fund is providing critical assistance to local communities coping with pandemic-related issues. To date, Ford Fund has invested more than $2.5 million to support nonprofits in their efforts to address hunger, shelter, mobility and other urgent needs. Earlier this year, Ford Fund launched a COVID-19 Donation Match program—a combined effort between Ford Fund and executive chairman Bill Ford that will match up to $500,000 in donations to nonprofits and community groups in more than 20 countries. To learn more about Ford Fund's response to COVID-19 and to see ways you can help, visit fordfund.org/covid19.