This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Sometimes it takes the perspective of a kid to see problems that impact children and find a solution.
When Jack Griffin, then 16 years old, saw a news story about two kids living out of a truck in Florida who were homeless as a result of their late mother’s medical bills, he recognized a problem he hadn’t seen before.
He began researching and watching. He discovered that “there are so many kids across the nation that are, you know, getting ready for school in the bathrooms of libraries and gas stations. I realized that it’s so prevalent and yet still so hard to see if you’re not directly impacted by it.”
“I was just a student in high school I had to face none of the day-to-day struggles that these kids had,” the teen, now 19, told me in an interview. Watch the full interview in the video player at the top of this article.
When Griffin learned that 1,000 of the 3,000 kids in his high school qualified for free or reduced lunch, he decided he had to do something to help.
As he began to research, he identified a problem he thought he could help solve. An online search revealed low-quality results that weren’t always geographically relevant for a hungry kid without access to a car.
Asking an adult wasn’t a great solution either, he observes. “That’s so hard and such a massive absolute obstacle to overcome because it’s so difficult to reveal your circumstances to someone like that because there’s such a stigma around being in need of assistance and being in these dire circumstances.”
As an aside, Griffin interjects, “We have a lot of work left to be done with making sure that people know that it’s OK to just ask for help.”
So, Griffin created a website now called FoodFinder that would help students find free food resources. The site was school-centric so it worked by having the user enter the name of the school. The site would generate a Google map displaying the school as a blue pin and five or ten nearby red pins would be the nearest free food resources.
He launched the site near the end of the school year, coincidentally a high-demand time of year. When students leave school, those who rely on school for free or affordable meals now find themselves hungry.
Working with what Griffin calls the “first responders to hunger,” the teachers, counselors and administrators, the site immediately got some traction.
Looking to create an app, Giffin reached out to the Wireless Technology Forum in Atlanta and found stable|kernal, a mobile technology firm that helped them design and then build the mobile app.
Sarah Woodward, Director of Business Development for stable|kernal says, “The stable|kernel team was so moved by Jack’s story and by what FoodFinder wanted to solve that we felt strongly we should get involved. We love serving FoodFinder as their product team. They are a truly collaborative group that wants to do what’s best for the product, which makes our jobs easy. We love solving the technology challenges they have so that FoodFinder can focus on its’ real business of bringing more food resources to the people that need them most.”
About a year later, in the summer of 2016, Griffin launched the Food Finder app, available both in the Apple App Store and Google Play.
He’s proud of the app’s simplicity. There is no login and no data entry required. Open the app and it immediately starts looking for free food in your vicinity.
The website has been upgraded to operate much like the app. Users no longer have to enter a location. There is no friction whatsoever between a hungry person and the information about free food resources. Within two or three seconds, without any data entry, the information is presented.
When I tested the website and the app, both identified ten free food resources within about two miles of my location but omitted the largest free food distribution center in the valley, the Bishop’s Storehouse operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall at the Weigand Homeless Resource Center operated by Catholic Community Services. Griffin explains that outside the Southeast, the app relies entirely on the USDA’s Summer Feeding Site location database; within the region, additional sites are added to the app’s database.
Griffin has financed the operation of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit with grants and donations so far totaling nearly $100,000. He’s looking to partner with corporations to make the operation more sustainable in some way.
One early partner is the Arby’s Foundation. Christopher Fuller, senior vice president of communications and executive director, said, “As an organization that has been involved with ending childhood hunger for years but is also expanding our focus to include empowering youth, a partnership with Jack was right up our alley.”
Fuller praises Griffin’s FoodFinder, “Before FoodFinder there was not a year-round national database for meal programs so finding a program near you was a challenge. Unfortunately, many families struggling with food insecurity don’t even know where to start looking when they find themselves in need. FoodFinder offers a comprehensive solution to this issue for families by delivering this information in an easy to use app.”
According to Feeding America, there are 42 million people in the U.S., including 13 million children, who struggle with food insecurity. The nonprofit notes that “households with children were more likely to be food insecure than those without children.”
These numbers motivate Griffin to keep working.
As Griffin built the website and then the app, he saw two sides to social entrepreneurship. “With social entrepreneurs, people are quick to loudly support your idea.”
On the other hand, he faced criticism from people asking if an app is really the best way to solve hunger. He notes that a “surprising number of kids and their families do have smartphones or access to one.”
What kept him going was the feedback. He acknowledges that it is difficult to track the conversion from app and website usage to people actually getting the food they need.
He loves hearing from volunteers at food pantries and churches that the people they serve say they found them using the app. He adds, “a couple of times a month we’ll either get an e-mail or a phone call sometimes with people actually in tears just whether they are directly impacted by the issue or not say you know this is such great work you’re doing. We really appreciate it.”
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!