After watching a 60 Minutes segment about an impoverished family, teen Jack Griffin of Gwinnett County, Ga., was inspired to help food insecure families. After researching nearby locations to do volunteer work or send donations, he realized how difficult it is to identify free food resources. He thoughtfully contemplated if it were difficult for him to find these resources, it must be difficult for food insecure families and children to find free food as well. The end result – creating an app that identifies the nearest free food resource based on a user’s geo-location and provides the user with contact information in a secure, private manner.
iOS SDK, MapKit, Forge, Go, RESTful web services, Heroku and PostgreSQL, Android Studio, Google Maps API, Android API, Google Play Location Services
in the media
- Built both iOS and Android apps using geo-location to identify the nearest free food resource
- Designed simple user experience for families discovering new locations and resources
- Provided food insecure families with a location and contact information of free food resources
- Improved the existing web app’s backend to allow for a substantial increase in users
- Connected food insecure families and children to free food resources while helping them maintain their dignity and privacy
- Created a platform for food insecure families in Georgia that can be easily scaled to support families nationwide
- Supported a humanitarian issue affecting millions of people in the country
Connecting Food Insecure Families to Free Food Resources
It all began with an idea from a selfless 15-year-old named Jack. In early 2013, Jack Griffin saw Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes interview a 12-year-old girl and her 10-year-old brother. The program described the unimaginable struggles of a family with two children dealing with piles of medical bills from their late mother. Her medical expenses cost their family everything including filing for bankruptcy and losing their home. The two kids and their father lived in their truck, uncertain of where their next meal might come from.
While watching the segment, Jack asked himself “what was I worrying about when I was 10 or 12 years old?” To no surprise, worrying about his next meal wasn’t on his radar at the time. He hardly understood the idea of poverty and how widespread the epidemic really was.
“Even though it’s such a prevalent issue in almost every part of the country, it’s very difficult for people to see for those who are unaffected by it,” Jack said.
Jack was moved to act after watching the 60 Minutes segment and made it his mission to help the kids in his community. He took it upon himself to join the fight against food insecurity for kids and families in Georgia by volunteering with various organizations in Gwinnett County. However, when Jack began to research ways to volunteer and donate, he found that it was surprisingly difficult to discover where to help out. He realized if he was struggling to find somewhere to volunteer, it must be difficult for people in need of food to find these resources too.
The Birth of Food Finder
In January 2014, Jack reached out to his school administrators at Peachtree Ridge High School to find out if there might be a need to connect food insecure kids or families to sources of food. What he found was astonishing. His vice principal informed him that 33% of the students at his high school, about 1,200 of 3,600, needed free or reduced-price lunch.
Jack explains, “that really was shocking to me, you’d never guess that so many kids would be in need of help; the issue is out there. These kids are facing these immense struggles everyday, but unless you’re really aware of the problem or have a direct connection to a person facing these problems, their issues really go unnoticed.”
Jack was subsequently introduced to the homeless services coordinator for the Gwinnett County Public Schools, who exposed him to the realities faced by many residents. Jack, like many others, had no idea of the plight afflicting families right down the street.
Through the surprisingly arduous task of trying to find free food facilities in Gwinnett County – home to 10% of the public school kids in Georgia – Jack came up with the idea to create Food Finder – originally, a web app that locates free food at food banks, soup kitchens, and co-ops. Jack wanted to address a key issue for food insecure families: connecting people to free food resources based on their location.
Even though Food Finder’s users are in poverty, research shows families who might not have money for food, clothing or shelter will still have a smartphone. For many of Georgia’s families living in poverty, a smartphone is their lifeline to family members, job opportunities, their children’s schools and free resources.
“There’s still an information gap,” Jack said. “Even if a church or a co-op has an outreach program and the food resource is in walking distance, unless the student knows about the program and that the help exists at all, then it might as well not exist.”
With the help of his parents and a few advisors, Jack built Food Finder as a web application in January 2014. Word buzzed around town, and the project was picked up by local news sources including 11 Alive News, Suwannee Magazine, TAG TV and more.
Food Finder Goes Native
In May 2016, The Arby’s Foundation awarded Food Finder with a grant to fund the development of iOS and Android native apps. With this grant, Food Finder gained the ability to develop native iOS and Android apps with a new design and improve the existing features of the web app. As Food Finder expands its resource partnerships, the goal is to continue to serve Georgia’s food-insecure families and eventually expand nationally.
Once the team at stable|kernel heard of this amazing project, we knew we wanted to be part of something that would transform lives. The web app needed enhancements to become a better functioning platform that could handle thousands of users, and we fixed both issues with responsiveness and social integration.
In May 2015, we improved the web app’s backend and integrated geo-targeting services to locate the user and direct them to the closest food resource. We also integrated analytics into the system so the Food Finder team could track searches and volume of use. Though the project was originally intended for Gwinnett residents, we expanded Food Finder’s coverage area to serve the entire state of Georgia, reaching more than 1.7 million kids in more than 2,300 public schools through more than 1,700 resource providers.
Jack’s father, Jeff Griffin, speaks to the magnitude of the issue his son so passionately tackles. He says, “to see the challenges that these people face, to understand that their life is measured in the hours in front of them. It’s not about where am I going to go to school, it’s not what car am I going to drive, it’s what do I have to eat tonight?”
The Food Finder app helps impoverished kids find food based on their exact location, school’s name or any other address they entered. The app also indicates the hours and days each location is open and provides a contact with a phone number or email address for resources that have the contact information available.
In order to display a map of local food providers, we integrated with native APIs for each platform and created a Heroku instance using Go and PostgreSQL in order to serve a list of nearby providers based on the user’s location as determined by GPS. This allowed us to seamlessly display a list of locations as a user pans across a map. In addition, we added the ability to easily call, navigate to or email a food provider from within the app.
Because of Jack’s efforts, he continues to receive support from Atlanta and was awarded the 2015 Kids Who Care Award, a $1,100 scholarship from 11Alive, The Junior League of Atlanta and Arby’s Foundation. He also received the 2014 TAG Excalibur Award for Most Creative Solution to a Problem using technology.
stable|kernel is thrilled to be a part of Jack’s vision, and we are excited to watch Food Finder grow. By spreading the word and using app technology to connect families to free food, we can help Georgia’s people in need.
“I’ve worked with five mobile companies directly now and I can tell you that in my opinion, stable|kernel was the best by far,” adds Jack Griffin. “One of the reasons we appreciate them is because of the lack of overpromising. It is hard to come by getting what you pay for and seeing what you ask for these days, and here it’s been that way every step of the process.”