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Reduced planning time for Christmas tree collection from 12 hours to 15 minutes

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Easily transferred jobs between trucks to keep up with fluctuations in demand

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800 trees collected in just 3 days with 6 trucks

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Raised $19,862 for the Needham Community Council and Greater Boston Food Bank

Twice a year, the church organizes fundraisers: a ‘Pumpkin Patch’ every fall, where they sell pumpkins on the lawn of the church, and in January the church collects Christmas trees from Needham households, for a free will donation. The latter has transformed into a modern, technology-driven operation – but with the same big heart. It had a pretty humble beginning, where all of their pick-ups were scheduled on paper forms or over the telephone. Routing for the volunteer drivers was just as tedious, using a big paper map of the town.

It was on an off chance that their first route planner complained about how many hours it took just locating the addresses and planning the routes. Fortunately, the route planner complained to the right person, Joe Cocuzzo, one of the congregation’s members.

Here’s how Joe recalls the conversation:

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“For the longer streets, the route planner would think about who he knew on the street, look up their street numbers in the phone book, and then interpolate the pick-up address based on a guess where the pick-up address was located. So I asked, did you know that there is software that will put little dots on a map and let you plan a route?”

Ever since then, Joe has been planning the routes for the January Christmas tree collection.

Organizing Operations for the Church

Joe first used Microsoft Streets and Trips software to import a spreadsheet of addresses and then manually build routes. He later switched to another software just because it had better printing format options, but the planning process was still time-consuming. Up to twelve hours were needed on a Friday to plan collection routes for the coming weekend!

Being quite tech savvy, Joe was always looking for ways to streamline the routing process and make it more efficient.

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“About ten years ago, an operations research engineer in the church heard about how long it was taking me to plot routes and he offered to write a special software program to ‘combine’ all of the bits of software I was already using .”

The new solution plotted ‘least distance’ routes for a specified number of trucks, with a specified ‘load’ capacity of stops, and a specified total number of stops per day. Once this was all imported into a mapping tool, Joe was able to reduce the planning time by roughly half.

Pricing Plan That Accommodates Seasonal Work

Three to six hours of routing was better than the original twelve hours needed, but Joe kept searching the internet for a better way to do the plotting and routing. Finally, in 2019 he discovered cloud and smartphone based products available that seemed like they could provide a better solution and save time. What he found was Route4Me and OptimoRoute.

“I quickly ruled out Route4Me because they only had an annual subscription pricing model which was price prohibitive for the three weeks per year operation of collection Christmas trees. OptimoRoute’s monthly option was ideal.”

Over time, Joe also saw a decrease in missed pick-ups and a better coordination of efforts when using OptimoRoute. In fact, the actual import and planning process today takes around fifteen minutes and sharing pick-up locations with their drivers is as easy as pushing a button. The optimized routes are sent directly to drivers via the Mobile App.

“We staff our effort with volunteers and our crews vary a lot in the speed at which they can do routes around town, so while I am positive that we’ve saved a huge amount of time plotting and planning, and I also have made navigating and checking off progress quite a bit easier for the crews”.

Optimizing Routes on the Fly With Dynamic Replanning

Being able to add orders on the fly or move them from one truck to another is a big benefit of using OptimoRoute, Joe adds.

Considering they run up to six trucks on three successive Saturdays for their collections, he adds, it’s important to maximize their time spent on the road.

This year, Joe faced more pick-ups than usual during one week and a slump in pick-ups the week after. Using Dynamic Replanning, he was able to move twenty additional pick-ups to another truck to get finished in the first week and to merge pick-ups from two trucks to just one the week after.

Over time their number of deliveries has grown to anywhere between 700 to 800 trees that needed collecting. Once collected, they are taken to a composting/recycling area at the town transfer station where they are ground up and turned into compost along with other yard waste.

Church Donations to the Community

For Carter Memorial United Methodist Church, this year marked their 23rd consecutive Christmas tree fundraiser. Over the past five years, Joe and other volunteers have distributed over $80,000 to organizations such as Imagine No Malaria, the Needham Community Council, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

This year their volunteers visited over 760 addresses in the town of Needham, MA on three different Saturdays using no more than six trucks. In total they collected $19,862 which was given to the Needham Community Council (during Covid, primarily functioning as a local food bank), and the Greater Boston Food Bank.