Executive summary

The Free Store is a food redistribution nonprofit in Wellington, New Zealand and is founded on mutual respect between those who give and receive food. Food waste and food insecurity are issues that plague society, even in developed nations. In order to combat these issues, The Free Store collects unsold food from over 65 of Wellington’s eateries to be given away later that same evening. The difference between The Free Store and similar organizations is the social benefits provided in addition to meeting physical needs. The Free Store believes its next phase of growth requires an extensive formal analysis of its impact on their community. While methods and models exist to analyze traditional food redistribution organizations, the Free Store’s uncommon community-based concept of operation warrants a tailored analysis to properly gauge its effect on improving environmental, economic, and social well-being outcomes in the greater Wellington area. The aim of this project was to assist The Free Store in developing a framework for the analysis of their impact on the Wellington community.

The goal of this project was to provide The Free Store with a methodology to assess its impacts on the Wellington community on three impact levels: environmental, economic, and social. To accomplish this goal, we outlined three objectives. The objectives and the resulting methodology were as follows:
1. Establishing familiarity and building a foundation of mutual respect with the community of The Free Store.
To accomplish this objective, our team gathered data through participant observation. The aim of the participant observation was to understand the current perceptions of The Free Store by the customers, volunteers, and eateries, our stakeholders. We primarily volunteered at The Free Store for the first two weeks of our project. We began by volunteering at the store during operational hours from 3:00 pm until 7:30 pm on weekdays. The first portion of this timeframe was spent collecting food along the various routes established by the store. This allowed us to identify the roles of stakeholders and forge relationships with them. Due to the nature of our involvement, it was not possible to take detailed notes concurrently with the interactions. However, we used proven strategies for managing field notes.
2. Learning the perspectives of our stakeholders
After identifying and familiarizing with our stakeholders, we conducted interviews. We developed one set of questions for eatery employees and another for volunteers and customers due to the different nature of question and responses. We performed structured interviews when interviewing eatery employees. Our main goal with these interviews was gauging their perspectives on the issues that The Free Store aims to combat: food waste and food insecurity. On the other hand, we performed semi-structured interviews with customers and volunteers at the store. We chose the three main areas of need, physiological, psychological, and self-actualization, as “overarching themes”, and developed questions to find out about the store’s impact in each of these areas. In conducting both of these interviews we divided into two teams of two. Within each group, there was one person asking the questions and one person taking notes about the interview.
3. Developing and refining repeatable and systematic methods for gathering data for social impacts economic and environmental impacts
In order to measure the impacts of the Free Store, we required not only rich but plentiful data. After gathering and analyzing stakeholder perspectives through the methods previously mentioned we developed ways to collect quantifiable data in each of the impact areas of The Free Store. For the social impacts, we constructed a framework on which to base pilot surveys. We created this framework by coding the interview results from each stakeholder group to identify common indicators for the development of survey questions. Unlike social analysis, we gathered data for calculating economic and environmental impacts through empirical methods. These methods were mostly counting people or items around The Free Store.

Prior to the beginning our project, we expected our study to be the first half of a two year analysis. We framed our study such that the results would inform the second part of the study. Through our research, we arrived at two key sets of findings. The first is a comprehensive methodology for next year’s project team to fully analyze the environmental, economic, and social well-being impacts of The Free Store. The second are preliminary conclusions drawn about the impacts of The Free Store based on the data we collected. This second set will be further explored by next year’s team.
Steps to Assess The Free Store’s Impacts
1. Understand how The Free Store operates
a. Volunteer in different roles to experience all aspects of how the store is run
2. Develop a relationship with people at The Free Store
a. Hold conversations with customers and volunteers at the store
3. Gather data about The Free Store
a. Conduct surveys of customers, volunteers, and eateries
b. Collect counts of people served, food gathered, and consumers

Conclusions about the Free Store’s Impacts
1. Customers and volunteers find a place of belonging at The Free Store
2. The Free Store provides healthy options to those who otherwise may not be able to afford it
3. The Free Store promotes empathy and understanding for its customers and volunteers
4. The Free Store provides structure for customers and volunteers

After analyzing the results from our participant observation and stakeholder interviews, our team developed a set of recommendations for The Free Store to implement, as well as recommendations for further analysis to next year’s project team. These recommendations are as follows:
Recommendations to The Free Store
1. We recommend that The Free Store develop a set of specific and strategic goals or outcomes in order to allow for a concise evaluation of impacts.
2. We recommend that The Free Store establish a system of consistent contact with partner eateries
3. We recommend that The Free Store opens multiple times during the holiday season
4. We recommend that The Free Store records visited eateries on collection runs
Recommendations for Future Research
1. Developing and administering the pilot survey/administering surveys
2. Future research in economic and environmental impacts of The Free Store
3. Future research in social impacts of The Free Store