Plentiful: Modern expertise elevates dignity for these experiencing meals insecurity


The Transformational Tech sequence highlights Cisco’s nonprofit grant recipients that use expertise to assist remodel the lives of people and communities.

Meals insecurity is outlined as the shortage of constant entry to sufficient meals to dwell an energetic, wholesome life. In accordance with Feeding America, greater than 38 million folks, together with 12 million kids, face meals insecurity in the USA.

Limitations to meals entry could embrace inescapable components like COVID, inflation, restricted revenue, restricted retailer hours, and lack of transportation, in response to NYC’s Meals Well being Epi Information Temporary. In New York Metropolis alone, greater than 1.4 million folks expertise meals insecurity at the moment, 36 % larger than pre-pandemic projections, as reported by Feeding America.

Meals pantries supply a significant useful resource for folks dealing with meals insecurity. But the meals help framework has not seen any important innovation or tech implementation to deepen its affect in a long time. The persistent lack of ample staffing and information insights leads to info delays and stock management points. However leaders in New York Metropolis’s emergency meals community have come collectively to chop down meals pantry ready strains and improve dignity for folks experiencing meals insecurity.

People waiting in line for food.
Individuals ready in line for meals.

Innovation in progress

In 2015, a bunch of nonprofits and authorities companies, referred to as the NYC Meals Help Collaborative, got here collectively to deal with inefficiencies and inequities in emergency meals distribution throughout New York Metropolis. Through the years, they found some ache factors, together with lengthy wait strains; lack of handy and sustained working hours; and the outmoded use of paper sign-ins, transactions, and bookkeeping.

In response, the Collaborative created Plentiful. Launched in 2017 and collectively managed by Metropolis Harvest and the United Approach of New York Metropolis, Plentiful is an internet platform and cell app that meals pantry purchasers can use to make reservations for meals pickup, decreasing wait occasions and rising comfort. Hillel Herzfeld, principal institutional partnerships officer at Metropolis Harvest, defined, “Plentiful was initially created to extend the effectivity of the emergency meals community in New York Metropolis and to advertise consumer dignity.” This primary-of-its-kind providing is obtainable in 9 languages, based mostly on essentially the most generally used languages amongst these accessing the Supplemental Vitamin Help Program (SNAP) within the metropolis.

“Plentiful’s translation functionality was the best thought that they had,” Pedro Rodriguez, the director of La Jornada NY Meals Pantry defined. “It modified the way in which we talk with our purchasers. What used to require hours of guide translation and outreach can now be carried out practically instantaneously, and within the consumer’s most well-liked language—it’s unimaginable!”

The sign-up and reservation course of is easy: Shoppers register for the free service via the online platform or any cell phone (iOS and Android) after which reserve a time to select up their meals (anyplace from 5 minutes to 3 months prematurely), avoiding the lengthy wait strains that may take hours to get via. They get reservation reminders and obtain info on what produce is obtainable through robotically translated messages.

Plentiful bar graph
Plentiful’s consumer reserving has grown 8.7x within the final 12 months, accounting for 44 % of reservations.

Outcomes have been rapid and noticeable. “The strains decreased from 1.5 hours, on common, to roughly 10 to fifteen minutes,” Hillel said. “Not having to attend in an extended line and with the ability to come, not solely to a pantry that’s handy, but additionally to have the ability to talk with pantries—that every one speaks to the way in which that consumer dignity has elevated within the meals pantry expertise attributable to Plentiful.” Not do purchasers have to take break day work, discover childcare, wait in hours-long strains, or wait at a number of pantries simply to allow them to get their primary dietary wants. Bryan Moran, director of DevOps at Metropolis Harvest, agreed: “From the consumer’s perspective, for the primary time, they’re capable of finding pantries and know the hours are up-to-date.”

Scaling, with Cisco’s help

As with every little thing, COVID-19 had a staggering impact on meals insecurity. Bryan talked about that “April 2, 2020 was the primary time Plentiful broke 500 new customers who texted a meals pantry. And thru the pandemic, we noticed as many as 5,000 folks making reservations in a day.” Even with all the brand new customers added into the Plentiful ecosystem, they wanted some assist scaling their efforts to a platform that would serve extra folks at a decrease price per consumer.

Plentiful was initially constructed utilizing an SMS-based textual content message system. “SMS works from a technical perspective, however from a price perspective it isn’t scalable. Each SMS interplay is, on common, a number of textual content messages lengthy,” Bryan identified. “You rapidly find yourself with 1000’s of {dollars}’ price of SMS payments a month. The identical transaction that prices roughly 3.8 cents on SMS, price lower than a 3,000th of a cent on Android and iOS and every little thing else.”

Plentiful line graph
The pandemic created a transparent uptick in Plentiful’s SMS utilization, and it has solely grown from then.

With a dedication to deal with serving to start-ups that handle important human wants, the Social Influence Funding workforce at Cisco knew that partnering with Plentiful may very well be symbiotic. What actually struck the Cisco workforce about Plentiful was how they use expertise to make the consumer expertise higher each for the meals pantries and for the top customers.

With a grant and persevering with help from Cisco, Plentiful may lastly migrate away from an SMS-based course of and over to a web-based platform. It’s all self-service registration now. You’ll be able to simply go on an internet site and sign-up—so individuals who don’t have cell phone entry can nonetheless use the Plentiful app.

“The online software, which Cisco is supporting, is so transformational in each permitting us to proceed to function Plentiful and enabling us to develop in a approach that wasn’t sustainable beforehand. It may have a nationwide affect,” Hillel added.

The subsequent three to 5 years …

Plentiful at the moment companies practically 250 meals pantries within the New York Metropolis space, with short-term plans for progress inside the metropolis and exterior markets. Different short-term targets embrace including contactless check-in, the power to incorporate info for presidency profit packages on particular person accounts (SNAP, WIC, and so on.), guided help tutorials for pantries and purchasers, and establishing a plan to scale the platform nationally.

Gail Brennan with the Instructional Alliance studies: “Earlier than utilizing Plentiful, the identical 150 purchasers got here to the pantry to select up meals each week. With Plentiful, there are actually 500 purchasers registered for the Instructional Alliance pantry on the app.”

“To be trustworthy, we’ve been making an attempt to construct a few of this for a pair years and have been making an attempt to get the funding for it,” says Bryan of Metropolis Harvest. “Cisco’s partnership got here via throughout a vital time after we had the chance to scale to satisfy the super want for emergency meals all through the town. Now we’re in a spot the place we will speak about reaching 90 % of New York Metropolis’s pantries. That wasn’t a dialog that we beforehand may have had with out the online software supported by Cisco.”

Neighborhood members with their groceries offered by Metropolis Harvest.

At Cisco, our method is to put money into early-stage expertise options which have measurable outcomes and that may scale and be replicated. That is the stage the place funding is most wanted and the place we will make the largest distinction. Be taught extra about our Nonprofit Partnerships and Grant Applications.


Subscribe to Cisco CSR



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here