In 2013, then-high school student Jack Griffin watched a TV segment about a family with two children that, after falling on hard times due to medical bills, was being forced to live out of their truck. He wanted to get involved in his community and conducted a search for places to volunteer near his home in the Atlanta suburbs, but quickly realized it was a tough search.
He also noted that if it was this hard for him to locate a shelter or food bank to give his time, it must be even more complicated for those trying to survive in a food-insecure community to find those resources.
Right now there are over 40 million food insecure people in this country, with 1 out of 5 kids who don’t know where their next meal is coming from at least some time. Just in Metro Atlanta, there are over 35 food deserts.
“I realized that this struggle was the same one that was being faced by the kids and families who were actually in need of the assistance,” says Griffin. “That’s when I had the idea. Instead of going a traditional route, I could actually help create something that would save these people in need time and energy by collecting information of these food pantries, churches, co-ops, and the resources they offer.”
Im 2014, Griffin turned his idea into a reality when he launched his non-profit startup FoodFinder, a geo-location website that shows the closest local food providers to your location. Each pin on the map displays the address, hours, and contact information to the food resource location.
“I did more research about the problem itself of food insecurity and childhood hunger and I realized that this definitely was a need, by meeting with teachers, administrators, people who actually oversaw and volunteered at free food providers,” says Griffin. “I got a sense of the problem.”
He funded the project with a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, raising $6,000 for website development. The original website launch only included about one hundred food resources and providers within Gwinnett County, Georgia.
Then, Griffin started to think big. If he wanted to provide these data points to more people than the 900,000 that lived in his county, he needed to reconfigure his product to scale.
He started contacting regional food banks on the Feeding America network (a hunger relief organization) to start populating the database with resources for Georgia’s 159 counties. The site now has more than 1,000 resources across Georgia, and has expanded to Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Michigan with plans to complete databases across the 50 states by early next year.
“Our goal is to provide the information needed so that anyone using Food Finder would know exactly when and where they could receive help if they were looking for it,” says Griffin.
In 2016, FoodFinder launched an app — it requires no login or personal data to reduce the barrier of entry for the food-insecure.
The 19-year-old is now a junior at the University of Michigan and his startup has become a family affair that includes his parents (plus the team at app development shop stable|kernel). To date, the startup has received over $100K in corporate grants, including the Arby’s Foundation. Between school and leading his team to help put food on food insecure families’ tables, Griffin has his hands full.
“I really take it semester by semester — what do we want to accomplish in the next 3-4 months?” says Griffin. “We have weekly check-ins to plan the next few weeks and then after each of these check-ins, we can go our separate ways. We keep moving forward even though we all have various priorities.”
“We never lose sight of what we want to achieve and how we can keep moving forward, especially since FoodFinder, more so now than ever, is really in a dynamic state of expanding nationwide, revamping our website to best serve the people we wanna serve,” says Griffin.
This past summer, FoodFinder partnered up with the USDA to list their roughly 55,000 Summer Feeding Program locations on the site.
“The maps got extremely populated across America, giving a sense of the level of coverage we’d like to have all over the country all throughout the year in the future,” says Griffin.