This app connects those in need with the nearest free meal
Jack Griffin launched FoodFinder when he was in high school. Now a college grad, he's working to connect even more people to nearly 50,000 food assistance centers across the country.
Editor’s note: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, food resources for families who have suffered job loss or disruption of services in their communities have never been more vital. Apps like FoodFindr can help those in need by locating the nearest food assistance program and food pantry in their area. We originally published this essay from the app’s founder, Jack Griffin, in February 2020. Jack updated us recently to give us some insight into how the app is connecting people to food assistance resources during the pandemic.
In March of 2013, I sat down in the family room of my home in Georgia to watch 60 Minutes one night before school (like all the cool kids do).
One of their segments was called Hard Times Generation, and it showed how the economy’s recovery from the financial crisis left the most disadvantaged people behind. At the story’s center were Arielle and Austin. They were children who, along with their father, were homeless and lived out of a truck in central Florida. The father worked as a carpenter but lost his job during the housing crash, and medical bills for their late mother cost them and their family everything.
[Read more: What homeless shelters really need]
As I watched the story, I realized that I never had to worry about where my next meal came from or where I went to sleep. Despite their circumstances, Arielle and Austin still went to school, just like me. Unlike me, they got ready for school in the bathrooms of libraries and gas stations. Like me, they got breakfast and lunch at school. Unlike me, all of their food outside of school came from a can with no way to heat it up.
Arielle was 15. Austin was 13. I was 14 at the time.
Seeing their struggles lit a fire under me. It made me want to help kids like that in my community, especially in providing the meals they didn’t have waiting for them after school. I did a simple online search to try and find places that I could volunteer at or donate to, but then I discovered something—Google is a lot better at pointing you to restaurants than it is to food pantries. My search was much harder than I expected.
I asked myself, “If I’m having this much trouble finding a place to go as someone wanting to volunteer, what if I was someone who needed the food being offered there?”
Even today, It’s incredibly difficult to get accurate and actionable information on emergency assistance programs by doing a basic online search. And if struggling families don’t know where to go, they cannot and will not get the help they need—help that’s already being offered.
This information gap is why I created FoodFinder, a nonprofit organization whose website and mobile app help you find your closest food pantry. With no personal information needed, we show your current location and the locations of every program nearby that can give you food for no cost.
FoodFinder is designed for use by all the faces of hunger: college students, families struggling due to the COVID-19 crisis, homebound seniors, and anyone in need. So when a food pantry requires a photo ID to get help, when you need directions to a pantry via public transportation, or you want to know if you can also get clothing or shelter there, FoodFinder has the answers.
FoodFinder’s website launched in 2014 as a humble database of a couple dozen food pantries in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Today, you can find more than 45,000 food assistance programs across America on our platform.
Now that we have data on just how much the need for food assistance has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that the number of people searching for food pantry assistance in March was the highest it has been in five years. FoodFinder’s own site traffic certainly tells a similar story. We went from connecting 700 people a day to food relief in February to 3,000 in March.
Things have stabilized a bit since then. FoodFinder now serves an average of 1,500 people per day. Notably, FoodFinder reached the 100,000 mark for the number of people connected to food assistance during the pandemic on June 17. In less than 4 months of operating during the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve served nearly as many food insecure individuals and families as we did during the entirety of 2019. But with the number cases continuing to climb and the economic toll of the virus still being felt by tens of millions of unemployed workers, we know that we have a long fight ahead of us and that our work isn’t over.
We must do more
Something I still struggled with before this pandemic is that there’s so much to be done. During the greatest economic boom of the 21st Century, why were 37 million Americans, including 11 million children, going hungry?
Even as the economy improved after the Great Recession, Google searches for food pantries have increased by 863 percent—from 400,000 searches in 2015 to 4 million in 2019. The situation is even more dire, with an unemployment rate reaching historic levels.
To truly move the needle on hunger, we need to take different approaches. With apps like FoodFinder and other innovations out there working together, we can make America more proactive and well-prepared to take care of its families in need.
There’s a lot more to do, but there are too many empty stomachs to sit idly by. I believe there is an achievable future where every family in America will always be able to put food on the table. It would be an honor to have you walk alongside us to reach that better and brighter tomorrow!