During the school year, thousands of Calgary kids receive lunches from organizations and nonprofits dedicated to reducing hunger in the city through school meal programs. But when summer hits and kids are out of school, knowing if children are getting the food and support they need or going hungry is more difficult.
Enrollment in subsidized summer day camps has gone down over the past several years, meaning children who would typically receive lunches as part of these programs may be falling through the cracks.
This led a group of nonprofits interested in addressing food insecurity to come together, brainstorm and create an innovative solution. The result is Food Finder YYC, which launched as a pilot program over the summer, offering a web and mobile platform to connect kids with food resources in their neighbourhoods.
Food Finder YYC aims to be user friendly, showing food donation locations as pins on a map, making it easier for youth to see what is close and available to them.
To make it even more helpful, a child or youth in need could go online or text FOOD to a central number, and depending on what they need, receive information for where they can access free snacks, meals or a food hamper. For the pilot, Food Finder YYC targeted four main areas of the city.
“We know these areas are high-need areas, and we are going to see who responds,” says Tanya Koshowski, executive director of Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids and one of the founding partners, during the launch of the app in July. “We are going to see if this is the best way to help these kids over the summer.”
The solution fits with a digital era, where most things are found online, according to Makena Hind, founder of Calgary Swims for Lunch Foundation and one of the partners involved. She says the ability to direct kids to nearby resources using mapping tools is an incredible resource that changes the way youth can interact with supporting agencies when facing food insecurity.
Food Finder YYC is more than a pamphlet with a list of services and numbers to call, it is interactive, informative, and a refreshing way to support Calgary’s youth in need.
Both Makena and Tanya add it was rewarding to collaborate as nonprofits, connecting their services to the online app to help avoid overlap and provide one simple access point for youth. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary piloted 3 locations and several other agencies such as Calgary Food Bank, Community Kitchens, and I Can For Kids were closely involved in generating ideas and connections to see Food Finder YYC launch.
Businesses also got involved, volunteering time and resources. Bow Valley College’s food provider Sodexo made 100 sandwiches per day over summer. Made Foods contributed 100 sandwiches per week during the pilot. In total, the program distributed more than 3,000 meals.
The Food Finder platform was created by Made by Uppercut, a company who donated their time to complete the project which was named the Best Non-Profit Project by Digital Alberta.
The Food Finder pilot has now completed and Tanya says they feel it was a success in terms of the collaboration among nonprofits and a better understanding of children and youth needs when out of school. She says they plan to run the app again next summer and are looking into making it accessible during other school holidays.
For Tanya, the real innovation lies in the ability to use technology to engage the community to support people in need. For example, a restaurant could add itself to the list of resources for a week at a time, providing a convenient and safe place for young people to find food.
“It’s an opportunity to engage the community all over the city to help care for these kids and families,” she says.