More than 1,100 elementary school students at risk of going hungry are guaranteed a meal every week thanks to the work of a small Lakeland nonprofit called KidsPack.
KidsPack distributes food donations to students across three counties and the logics can be daunting — and expensive. That’s why four Florida Polytechnic University students are volunteering their time to update KidsPack’s technology.
Two of them — Elijah Campbell and Joshua Rentrope — are developing a web-based program to help KidsPack track their volunteer hours. The other pair — Nadia Hasan and Zane Aleck — is creating both a mobile app and web-based program that will allow volunteers to quickly and accurately scan and catalogue food donations. Currently, both tasks are done on paper.
“Efficiency is very important and the way they’re streamlining everything is amazing,” says Michael Fied, who supports KidsPack’s IT operations. “(The students) are investing back in the community and it’s amazing to watch.”
For a small nonprofit subsisting on grants, donations and the generosity of volunteers, the work done by the Florida Poly students is a game changer. Start with the volunteer tracking program, which Elijah and Josh are calling Empact. KidsPack relies on a team of nearly 500 volunteers spread out over 17 different locations to pack and distribute the food. A bulk of those volunteers are students who use KidsPack to log community service hours. Tracking all of those hours on paper is inefficient and undependable. KidsPack also relies on volunteers to check their email for service opportunities, which can be a challenge for the nonprofit’s other main source of volunteers: retirees. Empact solves all of these problems with a user-friendly, online interface that seamlessly validates service hours for schools.
“There is a dollar value attached to volunteers,” explains Executive Director Patty Strickland. “By increasing our accuracy, we’ll be able to not only track hours, but demonstrate need when completing grant applications.”
The second half of the student projects is tracking food donations. The beneficiaries of KidsPack’s work are school children federally registered as homeless or at-risk of food insecurity. KidsPack supplies meals to these children at 73 schools, thanks in large part to food donations. All of the donations are housed in a large warehouse, where volunteers have to inventory each box and can. Right now that’s done with pen and paper. Nadia and Zane are changing that by creating a database system that logs donations through barcodes, using either a smartphone or a barcode reader. While there are already programs on the market that can perform this task, the cost is prohibitive.
“If it’s a choice between faster computers and software or one more child fed, we’re going to add a child every time,” Patty says.
For the students, putting their tech-savvy skills to good use is a no-brainer. Elijah’s father runs a nonprofit in Orlando and he’s seen firsthand how paperwork discourages volunteers.
“Programs like Empact incentivize students to put in more hours,” he says.
Nadia echoes Elijah’s motives.
“This is part of being human. We need to help each other and build a stronger society,” she says.