DENVER (Sept. 29, 2020) — The Colorado Department of Human Services Food and Energy Assistance Division (FEAD) has teamed up with local company Mobilize Comms to develop a platform that allows food distribution services, such as food banks and food pantries, to better deliver goods to families in need while maintaining proper social distancing.
The system allows clients to contact food distribution centers through text messaging when they arrive on-site and then for the distribution centers to deliver the products to the vehicles without having physical contact with the clients.
“At the start of the pandemic, we heard from our contracted food banks and pantries that their existing model of interaction with clients had to change to adhere to social distancing recommendations,” said Kathy Underhill, manager of FEAD’s Food Distribution Programs, which administer The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a federal program that helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans by providing them with emergency food assistance at no cost.
“This offers an easy solution that allows families in need to get nutritious food without putting them at additional risk through human interaction,” Underhill added.
The system is intentionally simple. When clients arrive at the food distribution center, they are instructed to text a number, which will send them a link to fill out an electronic TEFAP survey that will keep all of their personal information confidential. They will also be asked for the color and make of their vehicle. When they get to the front of the line, a volunteer from the food distribution center will bring out their food and place it in the trunk.
Underhill, the former CEO of Hunger Free Colorado with two decades of hunger relief experience, sketched out the program’s initial design in March after discussions with frustrated food banks around the state. She then brought the idea to Mobilize Comms, a local LGBTQ-owned technology and data communications company, which developed a workable plan within 24 hours.
“Kathy Underhill came to us looking for a solution to enhance safe food distribution for clients, staff and volunteers,” said Fay Skaggs, chief customer success officer at Mobilize Comms. “We were able to create an accessible technology solution and implementation plan within 72 hours.”
Mobilize Comms developed the prototype and did the initial setup free of charge. The platform, which is paid for by CDHS using federal funds, is available free of charge to any TEFAP agency in Colorado. It is very cost-effective, as 50,000 clients per month can be served via texting for only $1,575.
“Since the initial rollout, we have implemented additional technology and upgrades to enhance the scalability and client user experience,” Skaggs said. “With COVID-19 affecting all of us, we are committed to being part of the solution.”
Currently, Metro Caring and the Durango Food Bank are a few of the food distribution programs in Colorado to use the technology. Underhill said that after an initial surge of use, the need for the platform decreased during the warmer months. However, the number of pantries utilizing the technology is expected to increase with colder weather.
After the initial rollout, several additional states have adopted the program, including a partnership with Houston Food Bank, the country’s largest food bank network. Skaggs said Mobilize Comms is also working with food distribution programs in Michigan and Minnesota.
Media interested in contacting Mobilize Comms can call CEO Jade Baranski at 877.498.1698 or visit mobilizecomms.com.
Mark Techmeyer, Director of Communications