In early 2013, Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes interviewed a 12 year-old girl and her 10 year-old brother. Medical bills for their late mother cost the family everything, including bankruptcy and losing their home. The two kids and their father lived in their truck, not knowing where their next meal might come from. I was 15 years old at the time. This segment made me think about what I was worried about when I was 10 or 12, and finding food definitely wasn’t on my mind.
Before the 60 Minutes segment, I didn’t have an idea of what children living in poverty even looked like. In January 2014, the homeless services coordinator for the Gwinnett County Public Schools informed me, “There are children living in spaces meant for boxes and furniture. After being exploited out of what little money they have by cheap, unsafe hotels, storage units are the last resort for poor families if they want a roof over their head.”
Her words stirred a sea of emotions in me: anger, frustration, disbelief, and sadness all mixed in a strange blend that made me cringe. How could such horrific conditions exist in a county that seems so well-off?
After watching this piece, I decided to help kids like that in my community. I wanted to join in the fight against child hunger and food insecurity in Georgia, but I sought to do something more than just volunteering a few times at a food bank – I wanted to do something that would serve many kids, and that would last.
Through the surprisingly arduous task of trying to find free food resources in Gwinnett County – home to 10% of all the public school kids in Georgia - I had the idea to create a geo-located app that would automatically locate both the user and the closest free food resources near them, such as food banks, soup kitchens, and co- ops. A tool that can tell those kids where to receive food for no cost based only their current location, or their school’s name, or any address they entered.
The website development work began in January 2014 under the direction of Dennis Nelson, our Project Manager. To pay for the coding, I used crowd funding with an Indiegogo.com campaign. I raised $5,970 from 78 contributors in 2 countries in one month.
www.foodfinderga.org went live on May 6, 2014, and has been visited by thousands of people in Gwinnett County and beyond. The site provides total privacy to the user and it’s use is growing among Gwinnett County Public School teachers, counselors, and students. In May 2015, the site expanded to serve the entire state of Georgia – over 1.7 million kids in over 2,300 public schools through over 1,700 resource providers.
My goal remains the same: to make food insecure kids’ meal times just a little less grueling, by letting them know there is free food, close by, right now, so that they don’t have to worry about their next meal every day.