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Technology-Enabled Volunteers Ending Hunger and Food Waste in Austin

George Luc is being honored as a Champion of Change for applying his tech skills for civic good.

George Luc

George Luc is being honored as a Champion of Change for applying his tech skills for civic good.

I believe that if you show people the problems and you show them the solutions they will be moved to act. - Bill Gates

Eleven months ago I set out to build a platform that would encourage everyone in the world to volunteer. Together with my co-founder, James McGirr, we created GivePulse, a social network that matches people in our community with causes they care about while enabling easy organization, management and mobilization of volunteers and supporters. From day one our mission has been to solve tough social problems through the use of technology. Keeping true to our mission, today our civic engagement platform supports hundreds of causes and universities such as the University of Texas at Austin and St. Edwards University.

Through our partnership with St. Edwards University, I was introduced to David Waldron, VP of IT at St. Edwards University, and Claire Dunn, Coordinator of IT Communications. Our discussions led to many collaborative opportunities that sought to improve the Austin community. One prominent opportunity ignited our excitement, a civic hackathon hosted by St. Edwards University to enable local technologists to hack for Austin causes.

The National Day of Civic Hacking provides the ideal atmosphere for connecting people with technological needs (for nonprofits and for social good) with programmers and hackers that can provide solutions. At the ATX Hackathon for Change 2013 a passionate social activist explained his problem and inspired us to act.

To kick off the event, representatives from local groups and causes started pitching their technical challenges. Hackers, social entrepreneurs, volunteers, supporters, reporters -- everyone was there. On one of the last pitches, James and I looked at each other and we knew we had found our match. The person pitching was Randy Rosens, founder of Keep Austin Fed. He gave a compelling and passionate 60-second pitch about ending hunger and food waste.  Randy explained how he wanted a better online calendar for scheduling volunteers to rescue fresh healthy food and deliver it to specific charities. However, it immediately occurred to us that it wasn’t just a calendar that would solve the problem, it had to be a simple way for food donors to contact volunteers to rescue food before it was thrown away and wasted.

After learning more about Keep Austin Fed’s needs we realized that what he had proposed as the hack was only a small piece of the whole solution. It was time to bring his organization into the 21st century.

The ideal solution required a number of moving parts. We would need to create a website for Keep Austin Fed, a texting service for restaurants to communicate with volunteers, and a backend reporting system for Keep Austin Fed to manage and keep track of all of the transactions, volunteers and donations.

During the two day event we built and designed the website (hosted by Rackspace, one of the event sponsors) enabling food donors, such as restaurants and bakeries, recipients, such as shelters and charities, and volunteers to join a Mobile Texting Food Rescue Service that we built using Twilio (another of the event sponsors). The way our solution works is that after food donors are approved, they are given a unique donor code and are told to text a phone number with their code, followed with a brief description of the food they need rescued. Keep Austin Fed then mobilizes available volunteers to deliver the meals to those in hunger. All the data about donors, volunteers, recipients, and the communication of how much food is rescued, where it was delivered, and who delivered it, is tracked automatically with the integrations between the website, Twilio and the backend system (SugarCRM).

After spending countless hours coding and drinking coffee interspersed with energy drinks you would think that our mental and emotional state would have begun to decline. That just wasn’t the case. As we saw our efforts and hard work begin to coalesce into a fully functional solution for Keep Austin Fed, our energy levels and excitement continued to grow. As a matter of fact, during the hackathon Keep Austin Fed and the service we created was able to help rescue over 500 meals to provide hunger relief for hundreds of Austinites in those two days alone.

As we reflect upon the hackathon, our mission to promote works of social good through technology was fulfilled. Every week, we directly and indirectly feed hundreds of hungry Austinites and save tons of food from the dumpster. If two hackers are able to make such an impact in just 48 hours, think how powerful it could be with an army of hackers!

Thank you, White House, for making this possible. Thank you, St. Edwards University, for bringing the National Day of Civic Hacking to Austin. Thank you, Randy and the Keep Austin Fed family, for believing in us. And thank you, Austin, for providing a home and platform to end hunger and food waste here in the Lone Star State and beyond.

The Civic Hackathon is over. But to end hunger, food waste and empower social good at a massive scale, our hacking must continue. Hack On!

George Luc is the Co-Founder and CEO of GivePulse