Food Finder YYC


Connecting Youth with Nearby Food Sources

Throughout the school year thousands of Calgary kids receive food from organizations and programs dedicated to reducing hunger in the city. We worked with organizations dedicated to increasing food security for youth to develop a solution to get nutritious food into the hands of youth once they are out of school for the summer. Food Finder YYC is a web and SMS service that connects youth with nearby food resources.

Industry: Charity/Food Services
Challenge: Creating food security for vulnerable youth throughout Calgary.
Services: Website, SMS Chat Bot, UX and Design

Food Finder YYC - Calgary Teen Lunch

Background. Food insecurity is a problem for thousands of kids in all quadrants and communities throughout Calgary. During the school year there are several easily accessible options to get a healthy lunch into the hands of kids who may not otherwise have access to proper nutrition. Unfortunately once the school year ends many of those most vulnerable are left without access to nutritious food.

A group of organizations dedicated to increasing food security in Calgary have come together to collaborate on Food Finder YYC. Food Finder YYC is a pilot project running throughout the summer of 2017. The primary goal is to empower kids by providing them opportunities to gain access to nutritious food while they are out of school for the summer.

Food Finder YYC is proudly supported by:

Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids
Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary
Calgary Food Bank
Calgary Swims for Lunch
Sodexo (made 100 sandwiches per day over summer)
Made Foods (made 100 sandwiches per week over summer)

Challenges. When youth are all together at schools it’s much easier for charitable organizations to get a nutritious lunch into their hands. Often, once the summer arrives and many of these vulnerable youth are on their own, they may not be aware of the options that are available for them to get food.

Implementing new technology into any organization can be a struggle, but the struggle is amplified when the organization is a charitable organization. When an organization is heavily carried by volunteers and most resources go directly towards impacting people’s lives it can be very difficult to allocate funds for technology. When choosing technology to implement into charitable organizations it is important to be certain that the technology chosen is both accessible and user-friendly to maximize effectiveness and reach.

Approach. At Uppercut we believe that technology can enable access to resources and our culture embraces social good projects. We felt that helping vulnerable youth gain access to nutritious food was a cause we could get behind, and jumped on the opportunity to donate our resources to help get the Food Finder YYC pilot project off the ground.

We felt that a location-based solution would be most effective, informing youth of the closest accessible resources available. However, an app or GPS focused program was not an option since it would limit the use to those with access to a smartphone or mobile data plan. Instead we opted for both a web application and an SMS chat bot. The web application is available through the Food Finder YYC website while the chatbot can be accessed by texting “Food” to 587-318-0232.

In addition to ensuring that the technology chosen was accessible to youth, it was also crucial that the information provided be presented in a way that was easy to act upon. We used filters to allow kids to select whether they are looking for a specific meal, a snack, or a food hamper (available only if they have ID or referrals) up to two days in advance. The website also provides the kids with any specific instructions they may need once they reach their destination, such as which entrance to use, if a waiver is required, or even what to say once they arrive.

The Food Finder YYC Chat Bot went through several iterations to become the warm, friendly Chat Bot it is today. Initially the bot was built solely to provide useful information to kids about where to get food. After testing it became evident that users thought the bot was cold and lacked personality. Switching from “we” to “I”, and adding a friendlier tone complete with emojis convinced several users they were talking to an actual person. The Chat Bot also provides information for food available both immediately or the following day and allows for 3 different types of reference points to determine location: Address, Intersection, or Closest Public or Catholic School. It was also important that it recognize common spelling mistakes, as well as any nicknames that kids may have for different school.

Results. The pilot officially launched in June of 2017 and the team has future plans to expand the number of resources available and add functionality to allow locations to manage their own schedules. In addition, the project will be open source in the future to provide other communities a solution of their own.