6 apps helping reduce hunger (and food waste) one tap at a time

Mon, 2016-05-16 08:15 -- Liz Enbysk

It's hard to fathom why so much food is wasted every day –- tossed in garbage bins -- in a world where so many go to bed hungry or malnourished every night. That's the current reality – but maybe not forever. Scroll down to see what can happen when bright minds, compassion, technology and smartphones join the fight to end hunger and food waste.

Transfernation is an online platform that works with corporations to collect extra food from their corporate events and cafeterias that would otherwise be thrown out and deliver it where it is wanted and needed. With an Uber-like app, volunteers near an event are alerted when there is food to be picked up and taken to a local shelter or soup kitchen. "Most people, especially in a city as busy as New York, don't have an entire day to give to volunteering,” co-founder Samir Goel told Smithsonian.com. "But finding 30 minutes to an hour is something that most people can do and is something that most people want to do." Transfernation reports it has over 300 registered volunteers and has rescued over 14,000 pounds of food since it launched in 2013.

ShareTheMeal is an app launched last year by the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) to feed Syrian refugees. It costs just 50 cents a day (U.S.) to feed one refugee child, according to WFP, and with the app users can send money for meals with a simple tap on an iPhone or Android. Is it making a difference? In November and December 2015, WFP says the app raised sufficient funds to provide school meals to 20,000 Syrian refugee children living in camps in Jordan for a full year. So far this year it's raised enough to support 2,000 mothers and their babies in Homs, Syria – again, for a full year.

Gigwalk is a location-based mobile app that volunteers from tech companies used in San Francisco last fall to collect critical data as part of a Meals on Wheels and San Francisco Food Security Task Force initiative to improve access to healthy and nutritious food for homebound seniors living in single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels. At the same time they were gathering data, the volunteers delivered disaster preparedness kits to the seniors that contained a two-day supply of food, water, blanket, glow stick and whistle – critical in the event of an emergency as 24% of seniors served by Meals on Wheels have no other source of food, the organization says. The data collected helps drive needed interventions and policy recommendations to public officials.

Spare is another New York City hunger-fighting app. This one is linked to a user's bank card and rounds up to the nearest dollar when they use it to pay for a restaurant meal. "You can make a big impact just with your spare change on your food purchases," said Andra Tomsa, the Bronx mother who came up with the idea. "What we're trying to do is close the meal gap," she told ABC7. "In New York, there are currently 235 million missing meals through the five boroughs." Each year she said 80% of the money raised through Spare will be donated to a NYC nonprofit fighting hunger, with the remaining 20% getting reinvested in the technology.

OLIO is a free app that targets food waste by enabling Londoners to advertise all manner of food they can't use in the hope someone else can. It may be someone who is moving and can't take food items with them or someone has taken up a healthy diet and wants to rid their kitchen of temptation. Or it might be a local shop or café with surplus food. Those donating the food can indicate how they want it picked up. Co-founder Tessa Cook told the Huffington Post UK that the average UK family throws away 22% of their weekly grocery shopping, which is worth £700 a year. “Obviously morally and ethically that’s horrific when you think that a million people in the UK used a food bank last year," she says. Since its launch in 2015, Cook says the app has been downloaded 45,000 times and used over 200,000 times.

LaztCall is the brainchild of a North Dakota entrepreneur who wanted to do something about all of the food that is wasted at restaurants. Her app, which according to the LaztCall website is coming soon for iPhones and Androids, will offer users a chance to order, pay and pick up entrees from restaurants for up to 90% off the regular menu price at the end of the night. The app lets the restaurants decide the time and quantity restrictions. Doing so, founder Kelli Cook told the Bismarck Tribune, gives control to the business owner. She said she eventually wants to add functionality to the app that would allow someone to buy the food and donate it to a shelter or other charity.

More on solving hunger and food waste…
Elk Grove's smart idea: Using social media to feed the hungry
5 ways out-of-the-box thinking, compassion and tech are reducing hunger
Video: Technology stops food waste in India

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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