Three Square Food Bank

Cisco Strengthens Three Square Food Bank's Network

TechSoup's popular donor partner, Cisco, is best known for supplying the switches, security appliances, access points, and other products that charities need to run their wired and wireless networks. One of Cisco's less-known good works is its signature Global Hunger Relief Campaign each year.

Even in the United States, nearly 15 percent of households have uncertain access to food. Cisco donation recipient Three Square Food Bank in Las Vegas is a strong ally in this essential hunger relief work. Last year, the organization provided more than 27 million meals to food insecure people in southern Nevada. Connectivity is core to its mission.

Food banks have some of the most complex inventory challenges in nonprofit technology. For instance, Three Square Food Bank received 33 million pounds of food donated from multiple sources last year (much of it perishable). That food then went out to more than 1,300 community partners who distributed food to those who needed it. The food bank really needs a modern IT system to organize and execute this hunger relief work.

Three Square Food Bank has gotten multiple product donations from TechSoup, among them Cisco networking equipment. I got a chance to chat with the organization's technology manager, Tony Caufield, who is the charity's first dedicated IT person. He told me that as the agency has grown, it very much needed to develop a more robust infrastructure and communication system.

Feeding a Need in Southern Nevada

Despite being one of the fastest growing places in the U.S. and a top destination for tourism, Southern Nevada is home to a lot of people in poverty. One in six southern Nevadans — more than 315,000 people — struggle with hunger. More than half of Clark County's schoolchildren are poor enough to be enrolled in free or reduced-price meal programs.

Las Vegas was one of the hardest hit areas of the country during the great recession, experiencing the highest rate of foreclosures in the U.S. in 2008. People there are still recovering. Three Square Food Bank was founded just before the recession and quickly became the anchor supplier of food to churches, nonprofits, schools, and other community partners in the area.

How the Organization Uses Cisco Donations

Before the organization requested Cisco donations, Three Square Food Bank had 100 computers — more devices that needed connections than the organization had connections for. It needed real Internet networking equipment. Cisco switches and wireless access points provided the connectivity the organization needed.

Tony also wanted a Cisco adaptive security appliance (ASA) to provide firewall protection and ensure that the organization's network stayed secure.

He told TechSoup, "Our Cisco donation was the best solution possible for us. It does several things. The Cisco switches provide redundancy on our server rack. Before this, if an Internet connection went down, tough luck. Now we have the safeguards we need. The ASA capacity has increased throughput and saved our organization thousands of dollars. We also use our ASA for VPN access so I can monitor our network at all times."

Three Square Food Bank's improved network infrastructure has also enabled the organization to move to the cloud. Recently Tony migrated the food bank's email system to Microsoft Office 365. He was also able to upgrade the organization's accounting and inventory system, which helps the organization manage millions of pounds of donation food each year. He told me, "That's huge for us."

Three Square Innovates to Solve Problems in New Ways

It is very interesting to see how forward-thinking charities adapt to their particular locales. Three Square Food Bank has some special programs particularly suited to Las Vegas, one of the nation's gourmet capitals.

  • It is the charity partner of Las Vegas Restaurant Week each summer. The event gives residents a chance to try the best restaurants in Las Vegas at a steeply reduced price, and a portion of the proceeds go to Three Square Food Bank. Among the astonishing array of 167 restaurants that participated this year were Alize, B&B Ristorante, N9NE Steakhouse, Scarpetta, Emeril's New Orleans Fish House, and many more. This event has raised more than $1 million for the food bank over the past nine years.
  • The food bank has its own executive chef and hosts and caters events at four banquet locations. It's one of the best catering deals in town, and it provides discounts to local nonprofits.
  • It was involved in an episode of the PBS cooking show "Edible Connections" with Chef Beni Velazquez on how to cook healthy foods while on a budget.

Tony Caufield sums it up. "Our organization is a very innovative place. We have utilized many of the wonderful vendors who donate to TechSoup. Many things would not be possible now and in the future in our food bank without the generosity of Cisco and several other companies. … We believe without the generosity of many of the companies, success would be harder to achieve."

This post originally appeared on the TechSoup Blog and was written by Jim Lynch, director of green technology at TechSoup.