Computerworld Honors 2013: Mobile app helps get fresh food to people in need

Community Plates' Go Rescue Web-based mobile application, the 21st Century Achievement Award winner for human services, streamlines the redistribution of surplus food to the hungry.

Computerworld Honors medal

Community Plates' job is straightforward: move surplus food from supermarkets, grocers and restaurants to agencies that help feed the hungry.

Although this task may seem simple, the conventional way of managing this food redistribution was marked with high overhead and waste stemming from the need for a fleet of trucks and drivers to move the food around and warehouses to store it in.

Volunteer-driven Community Plates saw a better way. The group, which was started in Fairfield County, Conn., and has since expanded to Albuquerque, N.M., and Columbus, Ohio, deployed Go Rescue technology from WhenToManage to cut down on inefficiencies, overhead and waste. As a result, it delivers fresher -- and therefore healthier -- food to those in need.

Go Rescue is a Web-based mobile application that provides a unique self-service volunteer management system. Volunteers sign up for food runs, either in advance or at the last minute if they find themselves with free time. The application then tracks information about the food runs, such as driving directions and donor contact information. By using volunteers to redistribute the food directly, the middleman process is eliminated, cutting distribution time and costs, as well as the potential for wasted food.

WhenToManage, a provider of cloud-based software for the restaurant, hospitality and retail industries, founded Community Plates as a nonprofit organization in January 2010. WhenToManage built Go Rescue as a platform-as-a-service model, which allows quick iterations and innovations. Already, improvements to the software have been made. Go Rescue App 2.0, launched in 2013, adds a social feature designed to give volunteers a greater sense of community and support.

Because a self-managed volunteer process could leave volunteers feeling isolated, Community Plates sought a way to connect participants. Go Rescue's new features will allow them to chat about their food runs, share ideas about new opportunities to help feed the hungry and swap inspirational success stories about the people they've helped. The upgraded app also includes game elements to acknowledge the volunteers' achievements and encourage community interaction.

Together with WhenToManage, Community Plates is looking to add more features to Go Rescue and to possibly create a separate app to allow receiving agencies to better manage their own volunteers and inventory.

Community Plates has expanded from its first operations in Connecticut's Fairfield County to two additional markets: Albuquerque, N.M., and Columbus, Ohio. To date, more than 650 Community Plates volunteers have rescued the equivalent of more than a million meals. The organization plans to move into about a dozen or more markets by 2014. Its volunteer-driven model and technology make the organization extremely scalable and sustainable as it moves toward that goal.

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Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

Read more about the 2013 Computerworld Honors Laureates.

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