Socent Spotlight: FoodFinder
Earlier this year Business+Impact introduced a new series on U-M alumni who have created social enterprises and continue the work of entrepreneurship after graduation. Our inaugural spotlight was about Thawra; now we focus our spotlight on FoodFinder, a tech platform making it easier for families in need to find nearby food assistance programs.
In early 2018, Jack Griffin (BBA ’19) was a finalist in the Michigan Business Challenge – Seigle Impact Track, with his phone app, FoodFinder, and won first place in the Elevator Pitch competition. At that time he said, “The heart of FoodFinder’s value comes from our platform’s ability to combine the speed and privacy of an online tool with the care, compassion, and reliability of a human.” At the time, he hoped that eventually, FoodfFinder would become an institution within the food assistance space.
That has come to fruition, as recently Google’s Find Food Support engaged FoodFinder as a key partner in their work. We caught up with Jack as he increases staff and scope with his “venture-on-the-run.”
- Describe your business: FoodFinder is a nonprofit organization and tech platform whose mission is to make it as easy as it should be to find emergency food assistance nearby. Our website (us) and mobile app (FoodFinder – Fighting Hunger) show food insecure families across America exactly when, where, and how to get help from more than 50,000 different food pantries, soup kitchens, and school meal sites nearby in their communities.
- What is your biggest recent discovery about running a tech nonprofit? Does anything from Ross or MBC come to bear in your work recently? The best thing about running an all-virtual nonprofit is that the efficiency of our operations allows us to have an extraordinary impact with far less investment needed than brick-and-mortar nonprofits. FoodFinder wouldn’t be here without the free food programs on the ground serving those in need, but thankfully we don’t have to worry about shelf space or any physical capacity constraints. Our food pantry map is available 24/7/365 – in every corner of the country – for anyone who may need it. I’d also say that my biggest lesson from my time at Ross and my experience with the Michigan Business Challenge was the emphasis on FoodFinder’s financial sustainability. Even as a nonprofit, the only way for us to help as many people in the long run as possible is to take care of ourselves first and ensure that we live to fight another day. And even with the challenges the pandemic brought, FoodFinder hasn’t just survived but thrived.
How did the pandemic affect the success of your app, and why? COVID-19 presented an unparalleled hunger crisis, and we rose to meet that challenge. While we could never have anticipated something like this, FoodFinder’s digital tool was perfectly suited to overcome the challenges of a disease-based crisis. Precisely on March 13th, 2020 (the day that the United States declared COVID-19 a national emergency), our platform’s usage immediately quadrupled from 700 people per day to 3,000 people per day. We broke our record single-day user totals constantly throughout March and April of 2020, and our daily traffic remained double our pre-pandemic levels throughout the remainder of 2020. In total, FoodFinder has connected 475,000 users of our platform to free food programs during the pandemic, more than double our cumulative lifetime impact of nearly 6 years pre-COVID. Financially, FoodFinder’s receipts actually grew 20% in 2020 compared to 2019, and we’ve more than tripled the size of our team in the last year. The pandemic has been a massive challenge for absolutely everyone, but we’re grateful to do our small part to guide families in their time of need.
- Tell us about your new partnership with Google and their nationwide hunger relief program? Glad you asked! FoodFinder’s biggest partnership ever just launched at the end June as we joined forces with Google to help power their new Find Food Support hunger resource site. The website itself is a one-stop-shop for all things hunger relief, including information on SNAP benefits, stories from the community, and the headliner that FoodFinder helps populate: an interactive nationwide map for folks looking for nearby food pantries, food banks, or summer meal sites. Their team shared with us how Google wanted to lend their support to the fight against hunger in the wake of the pandemic, and Find Food Support with Google is the end result of that. Their team has been a joy to work with, and we can’t wait to see how many more people we can serve in the coming years!
- What new ideas are you looking toward, or what connections are you looking to make? I’m always looking forward to hearing new ways that technology can make even bigger strides in hunger relief – Feeding America’s MealConnect and MEANS Database for instance do a great job with exactly that. But at least for how I currently look at FoodFinder’s future, I can’t stop thinking more and more about the ultimate goals we’re striving for. First and foremost, I’m most excited to see how FoodFinder can not just be the best emergency resource for food insecure people but also be a force for eliminating the root causes of hunger (i.e. a transition from only treatment to both treatment and prevention). When food is a prerequisite for a healthy life, people should never have to choose between paying for food, medicine, or utilities. Going forward, FoodFinder’s intent is to help Americans through our help locator while also using the data and policymaking levers at our disposal to address the deeply systemic root causes of food insecurity.
Do you still volunteer these days? As you might imagine, the safety constraints of COVID and the intense workload of leading FoodFinder have prevented me from (physically at least) volunteering at a food pantry for a while. However, I loved volunteering for several years at Maize and Blue Cupboard, the by-students for-students food pantry on campus. Back in my day, we just had our once a month grocery distributions on some tables in the basement of the Trotter Multicultural Center. I can’t wait to check out the fantastic new permanent location of Maize and Blue Cupboard on State St. the next chance I get!
- What do you wish more people knew about hunger in America? Food insecurity in America skyrocketed last year as a result of the pandemic. News coverage (and rightfully so) highlighted how dire the need was, but it’s worth remembering that 35 million Americans were still struggling with hunger before the virus ever hit our shores. And if you’ll also recall, that’s when the economy was doing great, the stock market was surging, and we were at near full employment in the U.S.. Is that really the best we can do with all the resources at our disposal? FoodFinder’s number one goal right now is to help move the needle on hunger back to pre-pandemic levels, but as I just described, we weren’t doing that great beforehand either. We’ve come such a long way in the fight against hunger, but we’re not satisfied. Over the next decade, I hope that FoodFinder will help lift millions of Americans back into lasting, sustainable food security.