Reimagining An App to Feed the Hungry

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Manzano Day School Students Volunteering to Sort Produce at Roadrunner Food Bank, February 2015, Photo Courtesy of Matthew Young

This article generously comes from one of our partners, Lisa Abeyta, co-founder of the phenomenal mobile technology firm based in Albuquerque (NM), APPCityLife. Lisa examines how civic technology can further the mission of hunger relief with us at Roadrunner. Thanks for letting us share, Lisa!  

When people ask me what we do at APPCityLife, I usually give them the 30-second elevator description: we are making it possible for people anywhere in the world to use our platform and open data information to create solutions and tools which solve problems within their own community.

But what does that actually mean? What does that look like in real life?

Let me share with you our Friday March 13th (2015) meeting to give you an idea what that looks like in real life.  Our team spent the better part of our morning with one of our oldest clients, Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico. To give you an idea just how early they came on as a client, our college interns actually had nothing to show the nonprofit’s communications team. We had no apps delivered to the store yet and were truly selling an idea of what was to come. With a leap of faith and willingness to embrace an emerging technology, the team at Roadrunner Food Bank worked with us in those early days to produce one of the first apps released by APPCityLife.

Initially funded through a generous gift, we were excited to build an app for a nonprofit addressing such an important need in our community. But, in reality, mobile was so new in those early days that none of us really knew for certain what would or wouldn’t work, especially for a nonprofit like a food bank. Our teams finally decided the app’s primary goal was providing food drop off locations as well as notices about upcoming food drives and events. The app also promoted ways to volunteer and delivered information about legislation that could impact the hungry. Our focus made sense for the mobile industry in 2010. The assumption was that most of the early adopters were upwardly mobile and much more likely to help a food bank’s efforts to feed the hungry.

Over the past five years, the demographic of smartphone users has changed significantly to now span across a wide range of income levels from affluent to the most in need. Almost half of us (and in some cases more) now own smart phones – across income levels and ethnicities. It is expected that 2 Billion of us worldwide will own smart phones by 2016.  In response to these trends, we saw the opportunity to completely reimagine the food bank app. Instead of a tool focused only on growing food donations – still a vital need and part of the app – we are working with the innovative team at Roadrunner Food Bank to produce an innovative mobile tool which can deliver vital information to those within the community who are most in need of the food bank’s services.

As we sat together that Friday morning and discussed the user interface design, back-end integration of data bases for continually updated information, and created a wish list of features, I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude that this is what I get to do with my days. Our team is comprised of dedicated, talented innovators who are passionate about imagining – and delivering – new possibilities through our innovative tech. We’ve spent five years building an incredibly powerful platform capable of bringing to market transit apps with open data real time tracking, e-ticketing, and beacon-integration as well as shop local apps with merchant-generated mobile coupons. In fact, one of our newest civic apps serves the public school community by delivering emergency messages which span the gamut from specific information for parents about a frightening situation unfolding at their child’s school to district-wide notices about inclement weather.

But to now take on convoluted, multi-faceted processes governing the collection and distribution of food to the needy – and change how the hungry are able to access needed help? That’s exciting stuff, especially when you consider that, in the process of addressing this need of our own local food bank, we’re creating a solution which can very easily impact how other food banks across the nation reach out to their own communities.

Not all days are this inspiring. But within our company, they happen far more often as we begin to serve clients far and wide. I cannot imagine how exciting it will be on the day when we are ready to open up our platform to communities across the globe so that individuals can begin to solve challenges they see within their own community. But for today, my heart is full and I have clarity that what we are doing matters. It  is worth the combined effort, sacrifice, time, and the commitment of our entire team which has made it possible to begin to empower others through civic tech that is changing the possibilities one app at a time. 

Matthew “Matt” Young is the Communications Coordinator at Roadrunner Food Bank in Albuquerque (NM). To ask questions about or comment on this article, you can do so below; or, you can call Matthew at 505.349.8845; or, you can e-mail Matthew.



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