Plentiful: Modern expertise elevates dignity for these experiencing meals insecurity


The Transformational Tech collection highlights Cisco’s nonprofit grant recipients that use expertise to assist remodel the lives of people and communities.

Meals insecurity is outlined as the shortage of constant entry to sufficient meals to stay an energetic, wholesome life. In keeping with Feeding America, greater than 38 million individuals, together with 12 million youngsters, face meals insecurity in the US.

Obstacles to meals entry could embrace inescapable components like COVID, inflation, restricted earnings, restricted retailer hours, and lack of transportation, in response to NYC’s Meals Well being Epi Knowledge Transient. In New York Metropolis alone, greater than 1.4 million individuals expertise meals insecurity immediately, 36 % larger than pre-pandemic projections, as reported by Feeding America.

Meals pantries provide a significant useful resource for individuals dealing with meals insecurity. But the meals help framework has not seen any vital innovation or tech implementation to deepen its influence in many years. The power lack of enough staffing and information insights leads to data delays and stock management points. However leaders in New York Metropolis’s emergency meals community have come collectively to chop down meals pantry ready traces and improve dignity for individuals experiencing meals insecurity.

People waiting in line for food.
Folks ready in line for meals.

Innovation in progress

In 2015, a bunch of nonprofits and authorities businesses, referred to as the NYC Meals Help Collaborative, got here collectively to deal with inefficiencies and inequities in emergency meals distribution throughout New York Metropolis. Over time, they found some ache factors, together with lengthy wait traces; lack of handy and sustained working hours; and the outmoded use of paper sign-ins, transactions, and bookkeeping.

In response, the Collaborative created Plentiful. Launched in 2017 and collectively managed by Metropolis Harvest and the United Method of New York Metropolis, Plentiful is an online platform and cellular app that meals pantry shoppers can use to make reservations for meals pickup, decreasing wait occasions and rising comfort. Hillel Herzfeld, principal institutional partnerships officer at Metropolis Harvest, defined, “Plentiful was initially created to extend the effectivity of the emergency meals community in New York Metropolis and to advertise shopper dignity.” This primary-of-its-kind providing is offered in 9 languages, based mostly on essentially the most generally used languages amongst these accessing the Supplemental Vitamin Help Program (SNAP) within the metropolis.

“Plentiful’s translation functionality was the best thought they’d,” Pedro Rodriguez, the director of La Jornada NY Meals Pantry defined. “It modified the best way we talk with our shoppers. What used to require hours of handbook translation and outreach can now be accomplished almost instantaneously, and within the shopper’s most well-liked language—it’s unimaginable!”

The sign-up and reservation course of is straightforward: Shoppers register for the free service by means of the net platform or any cell phone (iOS and Android) after which reserve a time to select up their meals (anyplace from 5 minutes to 3 months prematurely), avoiding the lengthy wait traces that may take hours to get by means of. They get reservation reminders and obtain data on what produce is offered by way of mechanically translated messages.

Plentiful bar graph
Plentiful’s shopper reserving has grown 8.7x within the final yr, accounting for 44 % of reservations.

Outcomes had been instant and noticeable. “The traces decreased from 1.5 hours, on common, to roughly 10 to fifteen minutes,” Hillel acknowledged. “Not having to attend in a protracted line and with the ability to come, not solely to a pantry that’s handy, but in addition to have the ability to talk with pantries—that every one speaks to the best way that shopper dignity has elevated within the meals pantry expertise because of Plentiful.” Not do shoppers have to take break day work, discover childcare, wait in hours-long traces, or wait at a number of pantries simply to allow them to get their fundamental dietary wants. Bryan Moran, director of DevOps at Metropolis Harvest, agreed: “From the shopper’s perspective, for the primary time, they’re capable of finding pantries and know the hours are up-to-date.”

Scaling, with Cisco’s assist

As with every thing, COVID-19 had a staggering impact on meals insecurity. Bryan talked about that “April 2, 2020 was the primary time Plentiful broke 500 new customers who texted a meals pantry. And thru the pandemic, we noticed as many as 5,000 individuals making reservations in a day.” Even with all the brand new customers added into the Plentiful ecosystem, they wanted some assist scaling their efforts to a platform that might serve extra individuals at a decrease price per person.

Plentiful was initially constructed utilizing an SMS-based textual content message system. “SMS works from a technical perspective, however from a price perspective it’s not scalable. Each SMS interplay is, on common, a number of textual content messages lengthy,” Bryan identified. “You rapidly find yourself with 1000’s of {dollars}’ value of SMS payments a month. The identical transaction that prices roughly 3.8 cents on SMS, price lower than a 3,000th of a cent on Android and iOS and every thing else.”

Plentiful line graph
The pandemic created a transparent uptick in Plentiful’s SMS utilization, and it has solely grown from then.

With a dedication to concentrate on serving to start-ups that tackle important human wants, the Social Influence Funding group at Cisco knew that partnering with Plentiful might be symbiotic. What actually struck the Cisco group about Plentiful was how they use expertise to make the person expertise higher each for the meals pantries and for the top customers.

With a grant and persevering with assist from Cisco, Plentiful may lastly migrate away from an SMS-based course of and over to a web-based platform. It’s all self-service registration now. You may simply go on an internet site and sign-up—so individuals who don’t have cell phone entry can nonetheless use the Plentiful app.

“The online software, which Cisco is supporting, is so transformational in each permitting us to proceed to function Plentiful and enabling us to develop in a manner that wasn’t sustainable beforehand. It may have a nationwide influence,” Hillel added.

The subsequent three to 5 years …

Plentiful at the moment providers almost 250 meals pantries within the New York Metropolis space, with short-term plans for development inside the metropolis and exterior markets. Different short-term objectives embrace including contactless check-in, the flexibility to incorporate data for presidency profit applications on particular person accounts (SNAP, WIC, and many others.), guided assist tutorials for pantries and shoppers, and establishing a plan to scale the platform nationally.

Gail Brennan with the Academic Alliance studies: “Earlier than utilizing Plentiful, the identical 150 shoppers got here to the pantry to select up meals each week. With Plentiful, there at the moment are 500 shoppers registered for the Academic Alliance pantry on the app.”

“To be trustworthy, we’ve been making an attempt to construct a few of this for a pair years and have been making an attempt to get the funding for it,” says Bryan of Metropolis Harvest. “Cisco’s partnership got here by means of throughout an important time after we had the chance to scale to satisfy the large want for emergency meals all through town. Now we’re in a spot the place we are able to speak about reaching 90 % of New York Metropolis’s pantries. That wasn’t a dialog that we beforehand may have had with out the net software supported by Cisco.”

Group members with their groceries supplied by Metropolis Harvest.

At Cisco, our method is to spend money on early-stage expertise options which have measurable outcomes and that may scale and be replicated. That is the stage the place funding is most wanted and the place we are able to make the largest distinction. Study extra about our Nonprofit Partnerships and Grant Applications.


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