FoodFinder helps thousands find food banks during pandemic

Jack Griffin, founder and CEO of FoodFinder, a food assistance app. CONTRIBUTED
Jack Griffin, founder and CEO of FoodFinder, a food assistance app. CONTRIBUTED

Thousands of Americans needing food assistance right now are turning to a free app that was created a few years ago by a Gwinnett County high school student.

FoodFinder, a nonprofit web-based and app platform, helps users find food pantries across the nation. Since the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, some 16,000 people a week have been using the app, said founder and CEO Jack Griffin, 21, of Duluth.

Operating as a nonprofit, FoodFinder posts information on 50,000 food assistance sites covering all 50 states, including those in 8,000 different towns and cities nationwide. Anyone can access the website, foodfinder.us, or download the iOS and Android smartphone apps, FoodFinder — Fighting Hunger, to search for free food resources by ZIP code. The sites include names, addresses, times and days of operation and other pertinent information.

In the past few weeks, Griffin and his staff have been working at a break-neck pace to keep up with demand and update information.

“It’s been all hands on deck,” Griffin said. He said the very day that the U.S. declared COVID-19 a national emergency, FoodFinder’s usage immediately quadrupled.

Griffin, who grew up in Duluth, was a junior at Peachtree Ridge High School when he heard a news story about a food-insecure homeless family living out of a truck, and that news shook his world.

“It shattered my ignorance of the tens of millions of Americans who were facing such tough circumstances even though the economy was slowly improving after the Great Recession,” he said.

At first, Griffin said he was shocked. Then he got fired up and wanted to do something to help. After searching for places to donate food or to volunteer, Griffin realized it wasn’t easy to find them.

“The process was time-consuming,” he said. “If I was having this much difficulty, think what this would be like for someone searching to put food on the table for their family.”

What was needed, Griffin said, was a simple way to connect people looking for help with the places that were offering it.

He created FoodFinder in 2014, initially as a website serving Gwinnett County with a couple of dozen food pantries on its database. The app launched two years later, giving another tool for people seeking food assistance, and the site expanded nationwide to reach people with food insecurity.

The app has been especially useful for teachers, school counselors, and social workers working with students who face hunger. Education districts around the country are significant users of FoodFinder, Griffin said.

The Georgia Department of Education was an early supporter of the nonprofit and encourages each local district to make it available.

Griffin, who graduated from the University of Michigan last year, serves as CEO of the nonprofit, which operates on donations and grants. In May, FoodFinder received a $156,000 grant from The Walmart Foundation to expand its platform and add a crowd-sourcing portal. The tool, which allows users to update or add pantries, spurred “tremendous growth” for the site, Griffin said.

Just like grocery stores, food assistance programs are struggling to keep stock on the shelves during the pandemic. As pantries face supply shortages, changing hours, or shutter all together because of the coronavirus, the nonprofit tries to keep the information updated on its site.

“If food pantries run out of food, we definitely don’t want to mislead those who are turning to us,” Griffin said.

As other nonprofits and businesses rise to fill hunger needs around the country, FoodFinder also makes this information available. Volunteers can look up their neighborhood pantries to donate food and other supplies.

Earlier this year, FoodFinder served an average of 750 daily users, a number that jumped immediately to 3,000 a day as schools closed, and student lunches stopped.

“Now we’re getting a sense of the economic crisis we’re facing with millions of people laid off. It’s nothing like we’ve ever seen before,” Griffin said. “Our job is by no means over when the virus is no longer a threat.”

HOW TO HELP

FoodFinder is a free app and website helping users find the nearest food pantry. Both iSO and Android smartphone apps are available, FoodFinder — Fighting Hunger.

The nonprofit operates on donations and grants. Donations can be made at the website: foodfinder.us or directly to FoodFinder's donation portal, www.flipcause.com/hosted_widget/hostedWidgetHome/MTUwOQ==

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