In March 2020, Google searches for food pantries were the highest they have been in five years. With many Americans at risk of food insecurity for the first time, alongside millions who were already vulnerable, finding assistance is critical. The majority of pantries are volunteer-run with a limited digital presence, making resources difficult to find online.
In 2013, Jack Griffin recognized this major gap in information while he was still in high school. To help connect people in the United States to food resources, he built FoodFinder, a nonprofit app and website. And since 2018, through Google for Nonprofits, he’s been using products like Google Maps Platform credits and Ad Grants to bring awareness to the platform and surface key information to those in need.
Prior to FoodFinder, most information on emergency food relief was found in huge lists of food pantry addresses, and transportation remained a huge barrier to receiving these services. Jack used Google Maps to create a way to help users understand what’s nearby, by displaying users’ current location and food assistance providers in their area.
FoodFinder prioritizes showing the closest, most relevant programs, including temporary resources set up for COVID-19 relief. The team uses Google Maps Platform to provide a familiar, easy-to-use interface that quickly provides information like eligibility and hours of operation. By using a map instead of a list, users are able to see the locations of food assistance providers, the density of resources and the supply of emergency food. Starting this year, FoodFinder plans to use their dataset to inform policymakers about where to concentrate food insecurity efforts based on supply and demand.
In addition to Google Maps, FoodFinder uses Ad Grants to raise awareness, helping their organization rise to the top of the search results. By focusing on keyword phrases such as “food pantries near me,” FoodFinder can reach people seeking food for themselves or family before they get overwhelmed by too many sources of information. With COVID-19 creating more issues in food security, FoodFinder went from helping 700 people per day to 3,000 people per day, and site traffic increased by eight times. From the start of March, Ad Grants helped FoodFinder reach over 25,000 people, a quarter of their total users nationwide.
With help from Google for Nonprofits, FoodFinder has collected and verified the information of 50,000 free food programs across America. As a result, they’ve connected more than 300,000 people to food relief, and Jack credits Google as key to his app’s success. “FoodFinder is truly a Google-enabled nonprofit,” he says.