Streamlining Santa’s workshop: how CFC helps CMPD make holiday giving more efficient

The carols and gift-giving are months away, but making Christmas happen for families in need is a year-long task for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) and the Code for Charlotte (CFC) team.

For more than 40 years, CMPD has worked with the community to provide gifts to children whose families need assistance during the holiday season. The program has grown from providing 15 families with Christmas gifts in 1974 to providing 547 families with gift cards, toys and bikes in 2017.

Coordinating all this gift-giving is a gargantuan task, involving referrals from school guidance counselors, teachers and other partner organizations.

So CMPD reached out to CFC for help.

“The relationship formed with Code for Charlotte due to the need for the project to have a database or an electronic system to assist us with managing and implementing the project,” says Officer Ryan Botzenmayer, Youth Program Coordinator in the Community Engagement Division of CMPD. “We were searching for someone to assist us with developing the database, and one of our IT employees informed us about Code for Charlotte. Our IT Department had worked on other city projects that Code for Charlotte was a part of.”

When the CMPD partnership with Code for Charlotte began in late 2015, the goal was to simplify the nomination process and help CMPD ditch the paper waste. Thanks to the digital platform CFC created in 2016, the project has become streamlined and more efficient, Botzenmayer says. “We can obtain information in real-time from our partners and process it very quickly. In the past, our child referral forms had been in a paper format, and they were faxed, mailed, emailed, etc. It would take multiple personnel hours to process these paper forms.”

Officer Ryan Botzenmayer discusses CMPD’s Explorers Christmas Project.

Since the launch of the new system, CFC has continued to make improvements. The goal for this year is to expand the project to include a website — directly linked to CMPD’s website — that would allow the general public to sponsor children who have been nominated to receive Christmas, says CFC Executive Director Jill Bjers. “In the past they’ve done this option, but it’s been through their partners, and CMPD would like to start being able to provide that service directly.”

Another new feature of the project will be warehouse tracking, Bjers says. The initial build of CFC’s Winter Gift Project only addressed CMPD’s need for an electronic nomination form. “Well that’s fantastic, but their warehouse is still very much run on paper,” she says. “They don’t have to go through and print the nomination form (that’s been) submitted, but they print, like, the packing slip, which has a lot of the information that’s in the nomination form, just in a different format, and they have to go through and print multiple versions of that, and depending on where you find that in the warehouse and in what binder, tells you what status that child is at.”

CMPD officers and volunteers distributed 547 gift cards, 617 bikes and more than 4,710 toys in 2017.

Bjers spent two weeks last December working next to Botzenmayer in the warehouse (the lawn and garden center of a former Walmart) so she could better understand the process and determine future needs.

The plan is for the warehouse tracking functionality to link to the sponsorship website so that when a child is adopted there, the warehouse module will automatically update so that volunteers can see that the child has been adopted and will be able to track the toys that have come in and mark off how many have been allotted to that child.

Last year, only two or three boxes didn’t get filled until the day of the final check. Packages typically leave the warehouse and arrive at police precincts the Wednesday before Christmas and are delivered to families the next day. “But we’re there until like three o’clock in the morning doing that final check before delivery starts at 7 a.m. — to make sure,” Bjers says. Nonetheless, CMPD was impressed. “And they said that was the best they’ve ever done, so they were super excited about this,” she says. “But my goal is for us to never have a 3 a.m. night again.”

CMPD officers and volunteers prepare gifts for delivery.

Other possible improvements include developing a system for tracking the volunteers who help with processing and delivery. “The things to fix and the things to improve are well beyond a one-year time frame,” Bjers says. “There’s no way we could fix it all in one year. … There’s a lot of things that would help make this process smooth for them.”

Working in the warehouse not only gave Bjers insight into the process but also a new appreciation for local law enforcement.

“It was really amazing because you see all the police officers that are in there that do this,” she says. “They spend so much time and effort making this happen for kids. So it’s really cool to see that.”

Interested in helping with this project? We’re looking for front-end developers with React experience and back-end developers with Node.js experience, as well as project managers, designers and storytellers. Find out how you can take part by dropping in on one of our Tuesday Community Action Nights, or request a Slack invite at info@codeforcharlotte.org.