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4.3 Queuing for Gifts
Looking at the sustenance of its core activities, FS-CPH can be regarded as a successful grassroots initiative: not onlyhas it endeavour stretched out over three years, events have also expanded and grown in number. Nevertheless, asevents are open and publicly advertised, it is difficult for volunteers to predict how many people will show up eachweek. These has created a number of problems that volunteers have to deal with, such as attendees’ resentment forlong-waiting hours, or unbalanced distribution of food resulting in a few people collecting too much. For these reasons,over the last two years, volunteers have designed and implemented three different queuing mechanisms in an attemptto distribute the food more fairly among all attendees. Issues related to queuing were widely discussed during thefieldwork. In what follows we outline the connections between the organisation of queuing practices, the concept ofgifting food, and core community’s values such as fairness. While all volunteers interviewed explained that the maingoal of FS-CPH is to‘prevent food waste‘, they also place high value on redistributing food as fairly and equally aspossible – e.g. everyone goes home with something – and in creating a good atmosphere at events. These two concernsunderlie the three queuing practices discussed below.
4.3.1 First Come, First Served: The Line System.
In the early days of FS-CPH events, and continuing for approximately one year, queuing was organised on a first come, first served basis where attendees would self-manage in a single line outside of the community centre, waiting for their turn to take food. This worked well in the early days, while the community was small, but as events grew larger, attendees would begin queuing one hour – sometimes even more –before the event officially started in order to get first pick of the food. The event would begin following a short speech,given by a volunteer, to explain the purpose of the event and how it would be run. Inside the community centre, the food is presented on a straight line of tables, where attendees remained in line as they selected their food. Volunteers would then guide the attendees, by suggesting how much of each food item they could take based on the stock levels;for example, if there was a large quantity of tomatoes people would be encouraged to take a lot, but if there were few,attendees would be advised to only take one. Through this mechanism, volunteers tried to ensure that everyone who came would take at least some food home. However, this organisation of queuing was eventually deemed unfair by attendees, as those towards the end of the queue typically got a lower quantity and a reduced variety of foods.
4.3.2 Randomised: The Numbered System.
After a year or so, and as the community grew, volunteers experimented with a new approach to queuing, what we have defined as “randomised numbered”. This was a lottery-like system where volunteers distributed numbered queue tickets, in a randomised order to attendees. This way of organising queues resembles the very common experience (at least in northern European countries) to pick up a queue number,but without the incremental sequencing of numbers whereby tickets are generally issued. Distribution of the tickets began at 12:30, thirty minutes before the event before the event opened to the public at 13:00. Attendees who arrived later could also collect a ticket at any point throughout the event. Once attendees collected their ticket there was no need to stand in line. As the picture1(c) shows, this queuing mechanisms facilitated the formation of small groups,as people would wait together, or leave and come back again in time for the event. At 13:00 the event commenced as before with a speech explaining the purpose of the event, and the food was also presented in the same manner, but now volunteer’s would call on attendees who had tickets within a certain number range, for example 1-15. Based on this sequential order, to form a short line would be formed to collect food; once the first group was finished the second group would be called, and so on until all of the food would be taken.
Volunteers thought that the new system made queuing a more pleasant experience, allowing attendees ‘to wait wherever suits [them] rather than stand in the queue‘ (Volunteer 4). However, volunteer 5, one of the lead volunteers for the Saturday food sharing event, spoke of frequent conflicts that have occurred between volunteers and attendees when the queuing was restructured on the base of the randomised numbers distributed. As the quote illustrates, the random distribution of tickets was the factor attendees mostly complained about:
“People complain all the time about the fact that they came here before this person and they came here before this person. They want to go in first and they want to go back to the queuing system and we’re trying to make it a little bit more fair in the way we distribute it.” (Volunteer 5)
As already noted in the section above, a recurrent point in the analysis is the volunteers’ opinion that attendees who misunderstand the goals of the community are the more likely to complain about the problems of standing in line. Interviewees often referred to the attendees’ misconception of events as being at a free supermarket, or free farmers market. They often emphasised that those who understand the motivations behind sharing events tend to be more tolerant of the waiting times, as they recognise the efforts of the volunteers involved. This point is corroborated by data from the attendees, where one person (Attendee 1) recounted two episodes when the lines were very long and volunteers approached people waiting with large boxes full of vegetables and fruits they could just take while waiting. Volunteers also, noted that the number-based queuing system was problematic in that there have been cases for personal gain. They reported cases where individual attendees have collected more than one ticket, or did not return their ticket from a previous event, in order to increase their chances of being included in the first groups admitted
4.3.3 Grouped: The Picture-Based System.
Therefore, a little over one year ago, the community decided to implement yet another queuing system, which is the solution currently in use today. This new system, is quite similar to the number based system in that it organises attendees into smaller groups, but with this iteration, picture tickets rather than numbered tickets are distributed. There are twenty-four different groups each represented by a picture of a fruit or vegetable, these groups are called in a different order at each event. The key difference with this system, is that there are 240 tickets in total, ten for each each fruit or vegetable depicted on it, and these tickets are distributed only in a thirty minute period before the event begins. Distributing images removes the expectations of sequentially that is easily associated with incremental numbers. While tickets are being randomly distributed, attendees listen to an introduction speech given by a volunteer. After that, a poster showing the order in which the groups will be admitted, is presented beside the entrance of the venue see fig. 2. On the poster, each picture is now associated with a number but, differently from the previous organisation, the order in which the groups are called changes at every event. A volunteer stands by the door to call out the group names when it is their turn to enter, welcoming the attendees in each group to the event and collect back tickets. In some cases, attendees who have a ticket towards the end of the queue decide its not worth the wait and return their ticket. Volunteers reported that this system generally functions quite well. Having a predetermined number of tickets enables them to know how many people are present at each event, which provides a clearer idea of how much food each person should take. The attendees seem happy with the new system, although some have reported difficulties in hearing their group being called. However volunteers also criticise this design for still allowing what they regard as cheating: “people seem to collect them [queue cards]. So when we call a specific vegetable […] they [attendees] have an entire stack of them, all 24 vegetables. (Volunteer 2).”