Alleanza: Alleanza is a mobile application that works to aid homeless shelters that are currently facing a shortage of hygiene products due to the COVID-19 crisis. Users from around the world can use the application to locate local shelters in need of products such as sanitary pads, tampons, toilet paper, and masks and donate to them. These users can donate the physical products they have at home by going to drop-off locations at the shelters which allow for safe, contactless delivery. Alleanza also provides donors with the option to help shelters directly from home through a monetary donation. The user can select how much money they want to donate to a shelter, which corresponds to a certain amount of hygiene products (e.g. 10 dollars for 50 sanitary pads). Through Alleanza, we hope to alleviate some of the pressure homeless shelters are experiencing during the pandemic and allow users to easily help individuals in need.
What inspired us: The community service we’ve done during the past four years significantly inspired this project. One of our members (Maya Abiram), founded a branch of PERIOD., the nation’s largest nonprofit for menstrual hygiene. She worked with many low-income women who did not have the most basic hygiene needs. After reading several news articles, her team members realized that especially during this pressing time, it has been even more difficult for women to get access to essential hygiene products. Many consumers who can afford to purchase these items in bulk have been hoarding, leaving low-income women and shelters with little to no access to sanitary products.
What we learned: We learned about the value of social service. As four young girls who have a passion for using technology to aid our communities, we understood how simple apps can reach broad audiences. Since it is easy to lose sight of the struggles of specific demographics (such as women in homeless shelters) during times like this, special attention must be given to every individual’s needs. Through Figma, we learned how to create visually appealing and convenient User Interfaces for our demonstration. With APIs, we were able to use OpenLayers to create an interactive environment for the user. Using an algorithm that assigns an intensity value to each shelter or service center, we discovered how a concept like “urgency” can be quantifiable. Using open-source code from OpenLayers also taught us how to improve on and repurpose code to our own end.
How we built: With the vast amount of open-source code available to us on the Internet, we were able to create a functional map and app prototype. We used the OpenLayers tutorial (for the map) as a baseline and modified the JS and HTML code to plot several points and show data in response to a click. For the app prototype, we used Figma, an interface design tool, to construct each frame of the application and map out the different screens and buttons.
Challenges we faced: We faced challenges in three key areas: one was the purpose of the application. We wanted to address a very niche population, one of the most marginalized groups in our area at the moment: homeless women. We wanted to create a very straightforward application that would help these women but found it difficult as many of them do not have access to a smartphone or live off the grid. We found a way to fix this problem by working with the shelters and service centers instead of with the women directly. Additionally, we faced the challenge of narrowing down our target audience without preventing those in need from using our service. Thus, instead of solely targeting the women population in shelters, we decided to expand Alleanza to provide hygiene products for all individuals staying at homeless shelters; we added a feature to allow users to donate masks and toilet paper, as well as miscellaneous items like canned foods. We also faced difficulties when it came to the technical side of the application. For example, we tried to use the Google Maps API, since it is more well recognized and therefore more accessible by the general public. However, there were many permission barriers and templates that had to be completed, so we used OpenLayers instead. Furthermore, it was difficult to collaborate on our code. As we are currently in self-isolation and our map program ran locally, multiple members on the team could not effectively work on this in parallel. It was also hard to find a platform on which we could design the app easily and more comprehensively. Before using Figma, we had to experiment with other platforms and decide which would work best. Ultimately, we effectively worked through these challenges and learned how to collaborate creatively and apply technology for social good.