When Hypepotamus chatted with Jack Griffin in 2017, the University of Michigan student was building FoodFinder, a geo-location website and database of food banks, to help tackle food insecurity.
The problem was big then. But the pandemic only heightened the need for food assistance programs and food pantries across the country.
“[In 2017], I still wasn’t sure that I would work on FoodFinder full time after graduating college. I always knew that we would keep growing our mission and growing our impact, but at that time, I was still planning on becoming a consultant and into the traditional corporate world first,” Griffin said.
Fast forward to today. Griffin has moved back home to Duluth, Georgia, and has been scaling FoodFinder full-time since graduating. It has become a national platform with information on 50,000 food pantries across the country.
That means 5 out of 6 food pantries are currently searchable on the site.
As a digital hunger relief resource, FoodFinder brings information to those looking for food assistance. Not only can the app be used by individuals in need of assistance; it can also be a key aid for teachers, counselors, and community members looking to give back or distribute accurate information.
Griffin’s decision to scale FoodFinder full-time coincided with seemingly astronomical growth in terms of societal need. The pandemic hit less than six months after, and Griffin saw first-hand how necessary his app was.
An estimated 60 million people turned to charitable food assistance in 2020, according to the organization Feeding America. That 50% increase year-over-year meant new individuals were searching for accurate food pantry information for the first time.
FoodFinder was already uniquely positioned to help. Users on the app grew from 127,236 in 2019 to 323,580 in 2020.
In 2021, that number grew to over 714,000.
“With the pandemic, the efficiency of our work has really been just supercharged. Every dollar donated to our cause helps us reach and serve 20 people nationwide by giving them the information on food pantries and emergency food assistance that they need,” Griffin added. “Because we had put in so much work while I was still a student, we were in a really good position when the pandemic hit to be there for as many people who needed us as possible,” he added. “We are the largest source of this type of information anywhere in the US, offline or online, which is something we’re very proud of. But it doesn’t really mean much if you don’t have accurate information up-to-date information.”
Collecting and updating that data has been the key focus over the last two years. Data around changing operating hours, pop-up food locations, new distribution areas, and other Covid guidelines was necessary to ensure the app could help as many people as possible.
“It’s all about making people a little more confident and comfortable about where their next meal will come from.”
To keep up with the sheer scale of growth, FoodFinder went on a “hiring spree” last spring and added eight new people to its payroll. Now with 10 people total on the team, many of whom work on the data quality side of the platform.
FoodFinder also teamed up with Google for Nonprofits in 2020 to help with different hunger relief initiatives. This is critical because many food pantries have historically been hard to search given their poor web presence or lack of accessibility.
“We’ve been able to reinvest in our platform and grow our team. We’re still small and we’re still scrappy. But we’re very good at doing a lot with a little,” Griffin said.