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Feeding New Yorkers with Dignity: Plentiful Platform

Plentiful is a free, easy-to-use, communications (app and text-based) and reservations platform for food pantries and the people they serve.

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In 2016, United Way of New York City (UWNYC) and City Harvest worked in partnership with other members of the NYC Food Assistance Collaborative to develop and implement Plentiful to improve efficiency, equity and client dignity in the emergency food system. Plentiful is a free, easy-to-use, communications (app and text-based) and reservations platform for food pantries and the people they serve. Plentiful enables users to find food programs in their area, reserve a timeslot to pick up food, and receive updates on changing conditions at pantries, like closures due to inclement weather. In addition to developing Plentiful, the Collaborative also developed the supply gap metric to measure the amount of food a neighborhood needs to meet the needs of hungry or food insecure residents. With Plentiful’s pantry usage data, there is real-time data insights to help understand how to prioritize deliveries to meet current need. Unlike any existing product, Plentiful helps pantries track their individual client statistics while also enabling a new, much-needed level of client dignity and capacity analysis of the emergency food system by leveraging accessible, easy-to-use technology. Plentiful is also an efficient and accurate tool to collect outputs and client data that enables food pantries to achieve organizational efficiencies, such as reducing food waste, record keeping, and increasing service data captured.

What is the need are you focusing on?

Plentiful is quickly becoming the to-go to solution for food pantries – essential service providers – who are playing a critical role in New York City’s response to COVID-19 while serving low-income New Yorkers in need. With Plentiful’s reservation system, pantries can incorporate social distancing by adopting an appointment-based system as alternative to having people gather in groups outside pantries. Pantries are relying on the messaging features to communicate with clients around COVID-19 related services, like pop-up food distributions. In response to increased food need, the Plentiful platform is experiencing two times the usual messaging volume as pantries send more messages to clients and more people use Plentiful to find food assistance.

Which type of submission are you sharing?

  • Identifying a gap that needs to be addressed
  • Sharing an actual pivot your organization has already made

Describe the business pivot or adaptation in 3-4 sentences.

Plentiful is increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of food distributions. The onslaught of COVID-19 has severely challenged front-line organizations in New York City, including Emergency Food Providers (EFPs) such as food pantries and soup kitchens. Plentiful is a continued useful resource for New Yorkers in need but there is means to scale and wider integrate for food banks across the country. There is demonstrated interest from Food Banks in Westchester and Vermont. UWNYC believes that the long lines and limited food supplies at food banks across the US and other locales could be alleviated with a tool such as Plentiful, allowing emergency food providers to address food insecurities and get individuals on a path towards financial stability, economic mobility, and ultimately, self-sufficiency.

Do you plan to implement this solution?

  • Yes

Describe the impact that this solution will create in the world.

Plentiful is increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of food distributions. UWNYC strongly believes that Plentiful can fundamentally change the emergency food system, inform food choice and more importantly, improve clients’ well-being. More low-income New Yorkers suffering economic disruption from COVID-19 can access emergency food and social services supports. Nonprofit and community-based organizations that serve low-income New Yorkers can increase their capacity to serve those in need. Today, more than 30% of NYC food pantries and soup kitchens are closed temporarily. Many NYC EFPs are staffed by volunteers, the majority of whom are in the COVID-19 high-risk 50+ age groups. EFPs need to pivot to new service delivery models and add safety measures.The project will bring more food resources to the EFP network to meet demand. Individuals who need assistance with registering for benefits will be able to access emergency benefits.

What is the name of your business or organization?

United Way of New York City

What does your business/company do? Whose needs does your business/company address? Who do you serve?

UWNYC's mission is to mobilize communities to break down barriers and build opportunities that improve the lives of low-income New Yorkers for the benefit of all. UWNYC collaborates with over 600+ community-based organizations, government agencies, and private sector partners to address the issues of income disparity and food insecurity in NYC and to promote economic mobility.

What is your profession?

Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives

Where are you located (country)?

United States of America

Where are you located (region)?

  • North America

What industry is your business/company in?

  • Non-Profit/Philanthropy

How many people does your business/company employ?

  • 50-249

How old is your business/company?

  • 10 or more years old

Which classification describes your organization/business?

  • Nonprofit/NGO

What kind of stakeholders and partnerships are needed to pursue this solution?

  • Funding- Grants
  • Funding- Investment
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- NGOs
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Grassroots/Community Groups

Do you need help building partnerships and finding partners?

  • No

What do you think are the main barriers to implementing this solution?

One of the main barriers to implementing this solution is funding and the capacity to support this work.

If you are currently working on a pivot, what have you learned so far?

We have started to understand better where food insecure New Yorkers live, how far they are traveling to get emergency food and other data that helps to inform how emergency food suppliers can best support the food security needs of their communities. This tool has provided emergency food suppliers like City Harvest and UWNYC with more information about food access patterns in the city.

Are you aware of any open source efforts, hackathons or other collaborative efforts related to your solution? Are you participating in these efforts?

Yes, we participated in the 2019 ReFED Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator and were selected as the winning project!

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