SOLVE REAL PROBLEMS
FACED BY FOOD SECURITY ORGANIZATIONS
This project matches makers, coders, and designers with community expertise to dream up new solutions that solve real problems experienced by folks working at food pantries and food banks. You can design against the problems, build tech from community-designed low-fi prototypes, and be inspired by what others have designed and deployed.
DESIGN A SOLUTION THAT ANSWERS THESE QUESTIONS.
We talked to folks at pantries and food banks across the U.S. to learn how these organizations operate and to uncover what technology assistance might help them serve their community better.
Here are opportunities where technology might be able to create more efficiency.
How might we easily and efficiently schedule client food pickups?
During the pandemic, scheduling became a critical component of the distribution of food boxes as a result of the outbreak. To limit the spread of disease, it was necessary to schedule individual appointments for clients to pick up their food. The organizations now require a scheduling system that facilitates food lines to move faster. The additional benefit is that clients feel less shame by fostering a warm and welcoming environment that respects their need for privacy when receiving services.
How might we support clients having the freedom to select the food they want?
One of the main priorities of food security organizations is allowing clients to choose the food they want. Not only does this prevent food waste, but it also promotes dignity for the client and enables the provider to track client preference. The pandemic presented a new challenge to food security organizations: clients could no longer shop for their food indoors. This led many organizations to ask, “How can we still provide clients their choice in food if our volunteers need to do the shopping for them?”
Organizations who held onto their practice of allowing clients to choose their food did so by having the client fill out a preference sheet upon arrival, but this solution turned out to be time consuming, creating long lines for food. In addition to this, clients may feel shame standing in long lines due to stigma associated with food insecurity. Issues around personal safety, efficiency, and shame informed a need to allow clients to choose their food prior to arrival. And, if inventory were connected to the food clients select, this timely connection could ease the time and labor spent managing and updating inventory.
RECORDING CLIENT DATA
How might we manage data more efficiently?
Client data such as identification, household size, and proof of residence is collected by agencies for grants and federal food program reporting purposes. In smaller organizations, this may be a manual exercise of recording on paper and later entering data into a spreadsheet. This process is very slow and time-consuming and also puts data at risk of being lost, mistyped, or stolen. As a result, staff experience delays in processes and experience challenges tracking down information on repeat visitors, orders, or special requests, not to mention the burden of repeat sign-ins for clients.
INVENTORY TRACKING AND REPORTING
How might we improve inventory tracking and reporting systems?
Organizations receive donations varying by product and quantity daily. Staff are required to track these donations by the weight received and weight distributed to clients in monthly reports for grants, government programs, and private funders. Small organizations may be tracking inventory by manually counting items and recording on pen and paper, later transferring to spreadsheets. When it comes time to report inventory data back to funders, this information is typically transferred again into another software. Both of these instances of data transfer are time consuming for volunteers or staff. If inventory data could be integrated with a data reporting system that created real time visualizations or other innovations, organizations could easily see what foods they need and which foods are not being chosen by clients.
How might we reduce the organizational burden of managing volunteers?
Organizations dealing with food security face a major challenge in managing volunteers. Both large and small organizations face issues with volunteer scheduling and correspondence. Small organizations may be relying on volunteers to sign in and out on printed spreadsheets to keep track of their hours and later manually enter information into online spreadsheets. Large organizations may simply have too many volunteers to keep track of with either digital or physical spreadsheets. Volunteer hours are essential to track, because they are often reported back to funders. For this reason, a key need these organizations report is reducing the burden of managing volunteers, such as scheduling, checking in and out of shifts, and including volunteer information in required reports to funders
How might we create a system that maps the most efficient route for volunteers to deliver food boxes?
A large number of organizations expressed that they are in need of an automated delivery routing system. Volunteers are often asked to deliver food boxes to clients who are disabled, elderly, or lack adequate transportation. Many organizations providing delivery services simply give a list of client addresses to the volunteer, allowing the volunteer to enter each address into their choice of common mapping apps. This practice leaves volunteers zig-zagging around town on inefficient routes, wasting their valuable time and potentially expending more gas than necessary.
PROVIDING NUTRITIONAL EDUCATION
How might we educate clients about the food they receive in a safe and accessible way?
Organizations in food security believe that educating clients on the preparation of food is critical to helping clients eat well. Education also keeps those uncommon food products from being wasted at the organization. Prior to the pandemic, many organizations were educating their clients by sending out healthy menus and performing on-site cooking demos. For the same safety reasons that kept clients from going inside the organizations during the pandemic, cooking demonstrations came to a halt. Some organizations were able to provide cooking demonstrations online via recorded videos and Zoom.
BUILD TOOLS FROM COMMUNITY-DESIGNED PROTOTYPES
As part of Caravan Studios' methodology, our team holds events where communities convene to consider how technology might solve problems. While collaborating and learning together, experts in the issue area design low-fi prototypes that solve local problems. Along with community collaborators like public libraries, we share their ideas broadly so communities can provide useful feedback that informs technology designs.
Scroll through these community-designed prototypes to inspire solutions of your own. If you’re a developer, a designer, or curious about these issues, get in touch with questions or ideas you might have.
CURRENT TECH FOR INSPIRATION
Our team invites developers to share their social change technology with nonprofits and community stakeholders so that we can learn about new tools, provide community feedback, and learn from those who are designing for good.
Be inspired by the following tech and developer demos that address food insecurity in creative ways.
The aim of this project is to match community expertise with technology imagination to share, design, and build tools that address food insecurity in communities supported by Truist banks.
This project is part of a multi-phased grant funded by the Truist Foundation. Thanks to Truist for their generosity and the freedom to identify new ways of helping nonprofits address this critical need.
Truist Bank, Member FDIC. 2020 Truist Financial Corporation. Truist, the Truist logo and Truist. Purple are service marks of Truist Financial Corporation.
If you work in food security or if this project interests you, please get in touch with us.
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