It all began with an idea from a selfless 15-year-old boy named Jack. In early 2013, Jack Griffin saw Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes interview a 12-year-old girl and her 10-year-old brother. The program described the unimaginable struggles of a family with two children dealing with piles of medical bills from their late mother. Her medical expenses cost their family everything including filing for bankruptcy and losing their home. The two kids and their father lived in their truck, uncertain of where their next meal might come from.
While watching the segment, Jack asked himself “what was I worrying about when I was 10 or 12 years old?” To no surprise, worrying about his next meal wasn’t on his radar at the time. He hardly understood the idea of poverty and how widespread the epidemic really was.
“Even though it’s such a prevalent issue in almost every part of the country, it’s very difficult for people to see for those who are unaffected by it,” Jack said.
Jack was moved to action after watching the 60 Minutes segment and made it his mission to help the kids in his community. He took it upon himself to join the fight against food insecurity for kids and families in Georgia by volunteering with various organizations in Gwinnett County. However, when Jack began to research ways to volunteer and donate, he found that it was surprisingly difficult to discover where to help out. He realized if he was struggling to find somewhere to volunteer, it must be difficult for people in need of food to find these resources too.
THE BIRTH OF FOOD FINDER GA
In January 2014, Jack reached out to his school administrators at Peachtree Ridge High School to find out if there might be a need to connect food insecure kids or families to sources of food. What he found was astonishing. His vice principal informed him that 33% of the students at his high school, about 1,200 of 3,600, needed free or reduced-price lunch.
Jack explains, “that really was shocking to me, you’d never guess that so many kids would be in need of help; the issue is out there. These kids are facing these immense struggles everyday, but unless you’re really aware of the problem or have a direct connection to a person facing these problems, their issues really go unnoticed.”
Jack was subsequently introduced to the the homeless services coordinator for the Gwinnett County Public Schools, who exposed Jack to the realities faced by many residents. Jack, like many others, had no idea of the plight afflicting families right down the street from him.
Through the surprisingly arduous task of trying to find free food facilities in Gwinnett County – home to 10% of the public school kids in Georgia – Jack came up with the idea to create Food Finder GA – originally, a web app that locates free food at food banks, soup kitchens, and co-ops. Jack’s wanted to address a key issue for food insecure families: connecting people to free food resources based on their location.
Even though Food Finder GA’s l users are in poverty, research shows families who might not have money for food, clothing or shelter will still have a smartphone. For many of Georgia’s families living in poverty, a smartphone is their lifeline to family members, job opportunities, their children’s schools and free resources.
There’s still an information gap,” Jack said. “Even if a church or a co-op has an outreach program and the food resource is in walking distance, unless the student knows about the program and that the help exists at all, then it might as well not exist.”
With the help of his parents and a few advisors, Jack built Food Finder GA as a web application in January 2014. Word buzzed around town, and the project was picked up by local news sources including 11 Alive News, Suwannee Magazine, TAG TV and more.
Jeff Griffin, member of the Board of Directors of Food Finder, speaks to the magnitude of the issue his son so passionately tackles. He says, “to see the challenges that these people face, to understand that their life is measured in the hours in front of them. It’s not about where am I going to go to school, it’s not what car am I going to drive, it’s what do I have to eat tonight?”
The Food Finder GA app helps impoverished kids find food based on their exact location, school’s name or any other address they entered. The app also indicates the hours and days each location is open and provides a contact with a phone number or email address for resources that have the contact information available.