Long story short:

48 hours. One goal. Help the helpers.

Crisis. The Covid-19 crisis hits hardest the socioeconomically vulnerable. The demand for food banks which distribute food to people in need is high. At the same time, many food banks are closed or can’t be reached by their beneficiaries due to health concerns.

Product. Our digital routing service helps food banks to install an emergency food delivery service by telling volunteers how to reach people fast and efficiently.

Tailored. Non-profit. Free of charge. Data privacy-compatible. Truly target group-focused. Food Bank Hero can be used by volunteers, no matter what age and digital affinity.

Impact. Social Responsibility. Immediately. Our product has been created from scratch in 48 hours and is used by our partner food banks from now on to efficiently fight hunger.

Come with us on our journey.

Check out our whitepaper or our website

Long story long:

Inspiration

In these times of crisis, food banks across Europe face a lot of new challenges. As they take care of those who are most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, they experience a significant drop in human, material and financial resources, while having to comply with new hygiene rules to prevent the spread of the virus. To address these issues, the Aachen’s food bank has set up a food delivery system, but they struggle to efficiently distribute food donations directly to the homes of people in need. Optimizing this food bank’s delivery service was the issue we wanted to tackle, to provide a real life impact in the limited timeframe of the hackathon.

What it does

We help food banks to make their delivery service more efficient and less time-consuming to reach as many customers as possible amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Through the app we created, volunteers and staff workers are directly told the optimal route to reach all the beneficiaries they want in a minimum amount of time. We stand out from other, corporate routing solutions because our non-profit service is lean, free of charge and target group-focused. It can be used by everyone - even non-digital-natives - at food banks all over Europe.

How we built it

Our partner food bank organizes delivery addresses in the form of Excel sheets, resulting in very time-consuming, inefficient subsequent planning of delivery routes. Focusing on usability, these Excel sheets can be simply uploaded to our app. The addresses are converted into coordinates with the open and crowd sourced openrouteservice API. The most efficient route is then generated by the open-source project vroom API. The computed routes are converted to google maps links and then sent directly via Telegram-Chatbot to the driver guiding them through their delivery process step by step. Our solution is solely based on free and open source software and comes at almost no cost (except for hosting and maintenance). We avoid any hidden future-costs and vendor-lock-ins, as we do not use temporarily-free and/or closed-source software.

Challenges we ran into

When developing software for end users, there is a major difficulty: users are human beings. On the one hand, they might make small errors, such as spelling mistakes, in the input data. On the other hand - and this probably makes it even more difficult-, they are smarter than a computer. A computer distinguishes between abbreviations and expanded words, a user knows them to mean the same thing. A user knows that some house numbers aren’t just numbers, but something like 14b or 17/19. When targeting a user group which is not too familiar with software, we need to make sure that a wide variety of input formats are supported. When designing the routing system, tasks like changing user input, dealing with non-perfect data, or presenting the output in an understandable way took up almost all of the development time, while the actual route computation was easy to implement.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

In only two days time, we managed to create a privacy-complaining solution that successfully optimizes routing of food bank deliveries. By allowing food banks to save time and resources, these tools will be critical in maintaining a sufficient level of service and reaching the highest number of beneficiaries possible, especially marginalized and vulnerable groups. This tool is fully completed in these 48 hours and therefore directly available to Aachen’s food bank and to any food bank willing to improve its delivery processes amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

What we learned

This challenge taught us how to effectively make an idea become reality. From pitch writing to business plan designing, we learnt how to create a project from scratch while reflecting on its added value in the market. As bringing an idea to life in 48 hours is no easy thing, this Hackathon showed us that teamwork and time management are key elements to any successful project. Last but not least, we learnt that partnerships and collaboration with actors on the field are central to better understand the challenges they face and the solutions they need.

What's next for Food bank heroes

For our project to pass the test of time, we need to cover the costs induced by expense allowances for our three part time staff, who will undertake the operationalisation, the maintenance of the software twice a year, and further rollouts. Therefore, we will implement a sponsoring strategy by convincing profit and non-profit organisations to financially support the project, especially targeting institutions involved in food services.

Furthermore, we want to distribute our solution to the 950 other local food banks in Germany. To reach this goal, we will follow both a top down approach, that allows us to appear trustworthy and more reliable to adapt the solution to local banks, and a bottom up approach, that enables us to reach single volunteers in local food banks. In this field, we see a huge cooperation potential with Junge Tafel, an organisation which connects volunteers from different local food banks german-wide.

Last but not last, we plan on breaking into Europe by collaborating with organisations in Austria (Wiener Tafel) and Switzerland (Partage). In parallel, we want to work with the European Food Banks Federation (FEBA) to get contacts with other national european food banks.

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