Synopsis: Having consistent access to food is vital for life. However, many people and communities struggle to connect to food resources in a local and accessible way. This problem has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put a serious strain on the logistics of food distribution throughout the US.
AppGeo is using our expertise in GIS to analyze and improve how we address access to fresh food. This webinar (recorded on August 18th, 2020) brings together Priya Sankalia, Project Manager at AppGeo, Ross Topol, Application Development Team Leader for AppGeo and Lead Developer on the Bringfood application, Susan Dorsan, Community Organizer and Program Manager at Arlington EATS, and Aaron Doucett, Sale Engineer at AppGeo to discuss the potential for GIS and route planning to improve food accessibility.
The Bringfood Initiative
Dorsan: “When first people started to hear about COVID, and we knew it was maybe on the horizon and becoming an issue, we saw a sudden jump in the need for food. Initially there was about a 50% increase in the families that were coming to us. Before quarantine started we were putting together a lot of safety protocols, but as soon as people were to stay home we knew we had to make a huge shift. Fewer than 5% of our families we did home delivery to and suddenly that jumped to complete home delivery, 100%.”
Distributing food to those in need can be difficult in the best of times, but with COVID both increasing demand for food assistance programs as well as complicating the logistics of those programs, AppGeo saw the chance to make a difference. With the help of volunteers and workers from Arlington EATS, food had begun to be distributed to the community of Arlington. However, the logistics of delivery remained difficult and rife with inefficiencies as drivers were only given lists of addresses rather than cohesive routes. Within six weeks of meeting with Arlington EATS, AppGeo had created a beta version of a route planning application to help Arlington EATS and other food assistance organizations in Somerville and Chelsea. Working together with our community partners to improve and finalize the application, AppGeo released Bringfood for public use within only a few months. By sorting the deliveries into clumps of addresses, Bringfood greatly increased the overall efficiency of food distribution, as well as making life easier for volunteers, increasing retention long term.
Building the Application
Topol: “When we first started talking about ways we could help with this, eventually we landed on this use-case of food delivery and delivery in general during times of need like this and how we would solve this. We had been talking about the problem internally for a bit, how we would solve this, and this gave us the nice impetus to be able to actually say ‘let’s go do this, we can make something that helps out during this situation.’ We really just wanted to make sure we made something that was really streamlined, really easy to use. The whole problem of having a large number of addresses and trying to make optimized routes out of that can be a complex problem to solve. But we wanted to make sure for all our users that it was very straight forward, easy to use, that there wasn’t a lot of things that you had to do to get what you needed. We also wanted it to be able to handle a lot of different types of address formats.”
The application takes the addresses from Google Forms, Airtable, or CMS, standardizes their formatting, and converts them into coordinates, which it then clusters and places onto a map for drivers. Part of the challenge for the application was keeping it simple to use while remaining flexible to be effective in different use cases. Another focus for the application was ensuring the privacy of those inputting their information, especially because food insecurity is a stigmatized issue and because respondents are offering sensitive information to the application. For that reason the only data that is sent to AppGeo servers during the route optimization process is the latitude and longitude coordinates, with no other identifying information.
To learn more about using Bringfood for your non profit, visit Bringfood directly at bringfood.care.