Walmart Foundation Partners with 21-Year-Old Entrepreneur to Take on Hunger
Imagine what it would be like to go to bed every night not knowing where your next meal was coming from.
It was this scenario which inspired FoodFinder CEO Jack Griffin to create an innovative solution which helps food insecure families find organizations that can provide them with the assistance they need.
In 2013, Griffin watched a 60 Minutes segment which highlighted the plight of two children, ages 10 and 12, who had lost everything and were living in a truck with their father due to medical bills incurred during their late mother’s illness. And while they may have looked like every other child their age, these children were getting ready for school in public bathrooms each day, and at night, often went to sleep hungry.
Touched by this family’s plight, 14-year-old Griffin began searching for ways to help. He looked online for places he could volunteer, but was met with a confusing mess of complicated websites which failed to give him any clear answers as to how he could be of assistance.
To better understand the situation, Griffin reached out to administrators at his school and subsequently, the Gwinnett County Public Schools homeless services coordinator, and learned that in 2014, 33%, or 1,200 out of 3,600 students in his school alone were part of the free or reduced-price lunch program.
He also found that while many of these underprivileged families owned a smartphone – often their only lifeline to families, job opportunities, and the free resources they needed – many were still unaware of outreach programs that could be as close as walking distance to them.
Making an Impact
Determined to make a change, Griffin led the creation of a web application which helps kids and families find these resources and as a result, in May of 2014, FoodFinder was born. According to Griffin, in order to take advantage of and receive the help that is already available, people have to know it exists in the first place.
Developed for use by food insecure families, as well as the public sector advocates of these families, the program collects and verifies data on existing food pantries and other organizations or ministries which provide food. It then disseminates the information through online and mobile platforms. The site includes addresses, contact information when available, hours of operation, directions, languages spoken, and any other requirements for receiving assistance.
FoodFinder’s mission is to provide food insecure families with the ability to locate the nearest free food by making it is as easy as it should be to get the information they need quickly and privately. According to Griffin, the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough food in America, it’s just making sure it doesn’t end up in landfills or that food already on pantry shelves doesn’t sit idle and unused.
Griffin says he felt that FoodFinder was a way to make a much larger impact than simply opening a single food pantry of his own. As more people today are getting online, a digital non-profit makes sense and gives people a better way to find the help they need.
Since its inception, FoodFinder has partnered with the University of Michigan’s Center for Poverty Solutions and had the honor of being unanimously voted into the Alliance to End Hunger, a coalition that includes over 90 organizations which actively participate in the fight against hunger.
It has also been featured in periodicals such as Forbes, Hypepotomus, and Fast Company, and as of July 2019, over 80,000 people in 5,000 different cities across all 50 states have downloaded the app or used its services.
Partnering with Walmart Foundation
As a result of its efforts, FoodFinder has received a number of grants and awards, including acceptance into the optiMize fellowship which included a project grant, and a 3rd place win in the Impact Track of the Michigan Business Challenge. But a recent partnership with the Walmart Foundation has provided Griffin the opportunity to take FoodFinder to the next level.
Griffin says he and his team first contacted the Walmart Foundation in early 2017. With food being such a huge component of its business and the foundation’s commitment to fight hunger in America, they thought it would be a good fit.
Unfortunately, at that time FoodFinder was too young and too small for the foundation. Undeterred, Griffin, who was then a college sophomore, kept the relationship open and the program continued to grow as it received increased funding and a bigger workload.
In the second half of 2018, Griffin began working with Eileen Hyde, Director, Walmart Giving and through a mutual understanding of each other’s values, determined that this looked like it would indeed be a great fit.
In November of 2018, Griffin attended an event in Bentonville, Arkansas marking the Walmart Foundation’s billion meal mark in its hunger related efforts, and after meeting everyone from the foundation, spent his next spring break preparing a 30-page grant proposal.
The proposal was submitted in March of 2019 and in May, FoodFinder achieved its first six figure grant when Griffin received a letter, along with a check from the Walmart Foundation in the amount of $156,000.
Taking it to the Next Level
FoodFinder has been continuously working toward a more efficient system, and Griffin’s goal, with the help of this Walmart Foundation grant, is to help 112,000 people get connected to food near them in the next year.
According to Griffin, the grant will allow them to do four things:
- Over half of the funding will go toward a crowdsourcing portal which allows agencies to input and update their organization details. They will be able to enter up to 14 fields of information, taking FoodFinder out as an intermediary and ensuring that the information included will be up to date and as reliable is possible.
Griffin says permanent, year-round and summer food services and pantries around the country are already reaching out to them to be included or to update their information, and while this kind of portal is still a novel idea in the world of nonprofits, it has already been very impactful in the business world.
- FoodFinder will also be able to expand its paid social media advertising to include more teachers and counselors who can help students receive help. This has already been extremely successful, and he looks forward to reaching even more school districts in the future.
- They plan to produce and offer physical awareness materials such as fliers, posters, and cards for schools, libraries, health and human service offices, and other agencies and offices close to the fight against hunger as a means to further convey this information to hungry families.
- Finally, for the first time FoodFinder will be able to provide payroll and increase the number of members on its team. Up to now, they have been lean and mean to make a little go a long way, but this will allow them to support themselves and their team better in order to better serve more families across the nation.
In 2019 Griffin graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelors of Business Administration and a minor in Community Action and Social Change. Since 2013 he had worked toward furthering FoodFinder while attending school full time, but thanks to the Walmart Foundation grant is now able to devote himself entirely to the mission of feeding more families than ever.
His vision remains that of giving families the means to put food on the table even in hard times, but in addition to connecting people looking for help with those that offer it, he wants FoodFinder to be the rising tide that helps the tens of thousands of food pantries across America reach the population they want to serve.
With hundreds of billions of dollars already invested in the fight against hunger every year, Griffin feels there has to be a way to move the needle even further. Our country is at full employment but there are still over 40 million Americans who struggle with food insecurity, and because hunger is such a multifaceted issue, the solutions must be multifaceted as well.
Griffin wants to make a truly transformative and meaningful difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across America using technology for good and offering a scalable solution to a long-standing socioeconomic issue. He says it’s a pleasure, and he feels privileged to be of service.
He also believes that you don’t have to choose between being an effective and efficient startup and a kind and compassionate nonprofit. FoodFinder wants to be both – something Griffin believes they have successfully accomplished.
If you would like to learn more about FoodFinder or make a donation please visit their website. If you know someone in need of these services or are just curious to see how it works, you can download the app through the App Store or Google Play.