Photo by Rachel Hughes

The Promise House at Otterbein implemented a new mobile shopping form last fall inspired by COVID-19 restrictions during the 2020-2021 school year. 

With the requirement to shut its doors to the public spanning from spring 2020 to summer 2021, and seeing their volunteer influence downsize, the Promise House shifted to accommodate public safety in the past year. 

“We were forced to think creatively,” said Sydney Quynn, the Promise House main supervisor. “While we were locked down, we developed a Microsoft Form that allowed us to provide for students while maintaining the state’s COVID-19 guidelines and practices. Students could order items remotely and pick them up at the time they scheduled in the container at the entrance.” 

The Promise House has seen its student traffic triple as COVID-19 restrictions eased up and allowed the nonprofit store to reopen in August 2021. Now, upwards of 35 students per week regularly visit to browse through free groceries and toiletries. The staff chose to continue using a similar format inspired by their lockdown endeavors. Students are able to use a mobile form and record the number of items they select. 

          

“There are plenty of benefits to mobile forms,” Quynn said. “Now I can use the information on the form to make smart decisions on the best times to open and what inventory to pad, more or less.” 

This system of QR codes and Microsoft Forms allow the Promise House to better understand shopping trends and traffic they receive in their given open windows. Student shoppers are now able to save time by using their phones to inform the Promise House what they get as they shop. This is a change from the system of paper forms that were provided beforehand. 

“I have been three times since the pandemic first hit, and I would say they have made it really easy and adaptable for students [to shop],” said Jarrod White, a senior public relations major.

          

The Promise House sources items mostly from within the Westerville community. They receive frequent donations from Panera, Kroger, the Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) and the Otterbein Community Garden. The Promise House hopes to shift its focus toward expanding its outreach with students. 

The staff coordinates bread and produce pop-ups, late night grab-n-go pizza events and various other activities that help bring them to the students. The Promise House wants to continue its focus on engaging with students and increasing their outreach, she said.

“I believe there is sometimes a stigma associated with the Promise House,” Quynn said. “I would like us to prioritize helping students recognize that everyone [attending Otterbein] is welcome to use our resources without being of a certain need.”