When your phone is buzzing off the hook and waking you up at 2 a.m., that’s a surefire sign you need help. That’s what happened to Brother Tim Lukan, a monk who runs Five Loaves Food Pantry in the Virginia Peninsula. Br. Tim listens to The Kim Komando Show on WNIS 790 AM in Roanoke, Virginia. Br. Tim was dealing with calls day and night from people wondering how to get help, what hours they were open, directions to get there, or to ask Br. Tim to put them on his prayer list. He called Kim during the show looking for a better way to manage the load. Due to the pandemic, the Food Pantry is busier than ever. In 2020, Five Loaves distributed a whopping 522,000 pounds of food, valued at $898,000. Like all callers, Kim listened to Br. Tim’s needs and asked him some questions. Then, Kim gave him concrete advice about using Google Voice to solve his troubles. But knowing that it would be difficult to set up, she told Br. Tim to hold on and we’d help him set it up off the air with personalized attention. Plus, Kim told Br. Tim that she’d pay for the Food Pantry’s Google Voice subscription for as long as they needed her to do it. “This is a perfect example of how technology can improve our digital lives,” said Kim Komando. “It’s so very rewarding to me to be able to make a difference in a person’s life, or in this case, the thousands of people who reach out to the Food Pantry every month.”

How an auto attendant works

If you’ve ever called up a bank or a pharmacy, you’re probably familiar with an automated attendant. It’s a simple menu system with a pre-recorded voice that gives you prompts. Press a number, and you get a helpful message that answers your questions. For example, it will say something like, “For prescription refills, press 1.” Sound familiar? When you can’t afford to hire a receptionist, this digital alternative is a lifesaver. Plus, auto attendants are available 24/7, which means you don’t have to break up your sleep schedule to answer commonly asked questions. To set up an auto-attendant, you first have a Google Voice account. It’s not a slam dunk to add a menu system to that account. It can be very complicated even for a tech professional.

Together, they got it done

Over three weeks, our broadcast network’s IT genius John Davila worked virtually side-by-side Br. Tim. John set the system up for Br. Tim to go in and personalize the solution for Five Loaves Food Pantry. John trouble-shooted numerous issues for Br. Tim. Together, they got it done! “Google auto-attendant is awesome,” Br. Tim told us. “All the options and voices are there to make for a wonderful experience for the caller.”
But the Food Pantry’s solution goes beyond just voice calls. John helped Br. Tim set up a texting automated solution so he didn’t have to individually message hundreds of people. “Yesterday I used a plug-in on the text and mass texted 341 people,” Br. Tim told us. “Individual texts, not groups. It was awesome!” Here’s how to set it up.

Step One: Set up the Google Voice phone number

Remember landlines? That’s how Google classifies its Voice numbers. You need to identify your gaining carrier and your losing carrier. In this case, Google was the gaining carrier and Sprint was the losing carrier. Br. Tim submitted a port order to Google, providing his Sprint account information. Here’s an important caveat. Before you can set up an auto-attendant, you have to get in touch with your phone carrier. If you don’t do this, your phone carrier might think there’s some funny business going on. To make sure Sprint didn’t close his account, Br. Tim gave his carrier a heads-up so they could issue a new phone number. Usually, it takes about a week or two for a Google Voice port number to go through.  Tap or click here for a step-by-step guide to setting up Google Voice on your own device. Once the signup was complete, John and Br. Tim moved on to step two.

Step Two: Apply the number to an auto-attendant

After the porting process was done, John and Br. Tim starting building their phone tree robot. They chose a U.K. accent for the digital receptionist. Then, they wrote six different messages for callers to hear when they called up the food bank.  Now, when people call Five Loaves Food Pantry, they aren’t going straight to Br. Tim. Instead, they get these different prompts. Note that there are prompts in English and Spanish.

Press 1: To see if we are open and distributing or for the addressPress 2: Para obtener más información sobre nuestro horario y direcciónPress 3: For information on homeless assistance, utility and rent assistancePress 4: To learn how you can support Five Loaves Food Pantry either by time or donationPress 5: To leave a message

After listening to these five options, there’s a final message. “If this is urgent and Br. Tim needs to be contacted immediately, please press 9,” the attendant says. Only then will Br. Tim’s phone start ringing. “Things are going so great and it has saved me so much time,” Br. Tim told us. “Because of your help, 42 people were able to find the information they needed via the Google Voice app. No one needed to leave a message or reach me via the attendant!”

Want to try this for yourself? Keep this in mind

When you’re signing up for a Google Voice number, you may have to port the number twice. That’s what happened to Br. Tim. The second time, Google Support kept a close eye on the porting process. Plus, he had to update his 2FA with the new phone number provided by Sprint. Not entirely sure what that means? Tap or click to learn how to activate two-factor authentication for your accounts. When it comes to setting up two-factor authentication, Br. Tim has a special nugget of advice. “Go back in if you have your phone number listed and change it to an email,” he said. “There are too many reasons why you might not be able to access your texts on your phone…but you can always access your email from any computer.” The Google Voice app is available on the web. You can also download it on IOS and Android. “John Davila and Kim Komando are the BOMB!!!” Br. Tim wrote in an email. “Because of Kim, John, and all your hard work, we have learned, we have increased our knowledge base of possible solutions to challenges, AND we are going to be able to serve the Hungry of the Virginia Peninsula more efficiently and respond to questions faster.”

Big things to come in 2021

Overall, things are going well for Five Loaves Food Pantry. Thanks to automation, Br. Tim can hang out with his local community more often and help even more people. In 2020, Five Loaves distributed 522,000 pounds of food valued at $898,000 — 89,000 more pounds more than in 2019. That’s especially impressive given that they went from 52 volunteers per week down to 12 during the pandemic. Other than a two week break for a reset and extensive cleaning, they stayed open all year long to serve the community. In all, Br. Tim and his team served 5,024 people in over 20,917 visits. With new tech solutions in place, we hope they can help even more people get the help and answers they need. Five Loaves Food Pantry is 100% volunteer operated. For every dollar donated, they can distribute $29 worth of food. If you’d like to donate and support Br. Tim’s mission, use this PayPal link.

Random Acts of Kindness

As a regular listener, you know The Kim Komando Show makes it our duty to go above and beyond to help our listeners and local radio station affiliates. If you need tech help or know someone who could use a helping hand, drop Kim a line here. She reads every email herself. Tell us what digital life or tech problem has you down and what our team can do to help. Earlier this week, Kim helped the Arizona grocery chain Bashas’ work through the logistics of COVID-19 vaccine scheduling. The Director of Pharmacy reached out for help, saying the government is providing thousands of doses of the vaccine. The store had no infrastructure to handle questions or requests, so he turned to Kim. Listen to the story here.