Built initially for Gwinnett County students, Food Finder GA expanded in the fall of 2015 to serve all food-insecure students in the state of Georgia, through a network of more than 1,000 resource providers. We talked with Jack about the future of the project and his advice for students who want to make a difference.
Tell us more about your inspiration to start this project. How did you know you wanted to tackle this issue? Where did the idea for a web app come from?
It started with a news story that ran a couple years ago about a twelve-year-old girl and her little brother in Orlando, Florida. Medical bills for their late mother led to the family going bankrupt and living out of a truck. This segment made me think about what I was worried about when I was ten or twelve, and finding a meal was NOT one of my worries. So when I was trying to figure out ways to help kids like that where I lived, I tried to look online for places that I could volunteer at or donate to. I focused on hunger specifically because it seemed like the most pressing and fundamental need that had to be addressed for impoverished children. However, I discovered that the search process was much more difficult than I thought. I was just looking to help out somewhere, but the kids who actually need the aid should be able to access this information much more quickly; the idea to collect and easily display these food resources in an online aggregator came from this initial experience.
What was the process of development like? Did it allow you to build on any skills you’d developed during high school?
The actual development of the site was something completely new to me. I, like many of us, enjoy the benefits of technology but have nothing close to an idea of how it is actually built and written out in code. Luckily, I was able to find people who knew what they were doing, and the construction of the site was underway. In overseeing the development, I did gain valuable experience in team management, most of which entailed coordinating efforts with my project manager at the development company and his developers in India.
What have you heard from students (and adults assisting them) who’ve used the tool?
Given the very sensitive and emotional nature of food insecurity, people understandably don’t broadcast their circumstances. But from first responders like teachers and the people who run the outreach programs at food banks, churches, and co-ops, I have heard that Food Finder has been of real benefit to the students who have used it. Often times, the users discovered a resource closer to where they live or go to school, meaning that they could have an easier time receiving the help they need.
What’s the future of the project? What are you working on now?
Food Finder’s statewide launch was quite the milestone in our endeavor, but there is still a lot more to be done. The goal right now is to raise funds for the construction of a smartphone app that can perform Food Finder’s role and display the information of our food resources in an even more convenient and useful fashion. And this problem isn’t confined to Georgia – it’s national, so we hope to help both in Georgia and beyond.
If asked for advice by another Georgia student – one who was also interested in using their creative skills to address a social issue – what would you tell them?
I would tell them to use their creativity and try to see things from different perspectives. Similar to what you would expect from an entrepreneurial standpoint, I would want them not to try and come up with some unrealistic or arbitrary solution to a massive problem like poverty, but rather to identify a specific, local issue that is being overlooked. Identifying the tangible need that exists in a space is much more important than brainstorming a random fix to a problem. Then just buckle down and do the work, step by step.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Food Finder wouldn’t be possible without the help of all the teachers, counselors, administrators, developers, and supporters who gave their time, expertise, and resources to make it a reality. For anyone thinking about trying to make the world a little better, just know that there are a lot of people who want the same thing – you just need to give them a goal to reach for and you’ll be surprised how happy they are to help.
Connect with Food Finder GA through the web app, on Facebook, or on Twitter.