Accessing Food Programs During COVID-19

Shannon Beeman
January 8, 2021

Jack Griffin, Michigan Ross, BBA 2019

Founder, FoodFinder

While attending high school Jack Griffin (BBA ‘19) was inspired to create a tool to connect those facing food insecurity with local pantries. What began as a teenage aspiration is now an award-winning tool in the fight against hunger. FoodFinder is a secure mobile and web app that gives food insecure children and their families a way to find free food assistance programs quickly.

“Receiving the Diener Scholarship was a critical turning point in my academic and professional career. It gave me the courage to not only continue my entrepreneurial work while attending the University of Michigan but to go full-time with my social enterprise after graduation, a decision I couldn’t be happier with and that also led to my organization aiding 300,000 food insecure Americans who lost their jobs due to COVID-19.”

Upon launch in 2014, the FoodFinder platform included only a few dozen food programs near Griffin’s hometown in Georgia. Today, FoodFinder has the information for more than 50,000 food pantries in all 50 states and has been trusted by more than 300,000 people across the country. The expansion to a nationwide reach was made possible in July of 2019 when Griffin received a six-figure grant from the Walmart Foundation. 

During the first four months of 2020, FoodFinder connected 115,000 people to food—compared to 14,000 people in the same period last year. At its initial peak in March and April, the volume of users surged to 3,000 a day, up from an average of 700 daily before the crisis.

“The need for hunger relief, for emergency food assistance, skyrocketed and, subsequently, so too has the need for FoodFinder and the information we provide. We are the largest source of this information anywhere offline or online,” said Griffin.

Food insecurity has become one of the most immediate challenges of the COVID-19 economic fallout, according to Griffin. With schools shut down, tens of millions of kids have lost access to a constant supply of food through school breakfasts and lunches.

“Schools had to fast-track several months ahead of schedule and relaunch their summer meal programs to make sure students and families aren’t left to fend for themselves to be totally without food,” Griffin said. “They typically wouldn’t start up until late May or June for summer break but are operating right now because of the pandemic.”

The FoodFinder database includes food assistance programs in all 50 states, including more than 1,000 food pantries in Michigan. It also lists nearly 30,000 Summer Food Service Programs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provides free meals to kids and teens in low-income areas.

“And we expect tens of thousands of more programs to get started in the next few months, so we definitely expect the size of our database to essentially double by the end of May,” Griffin said. “We’re incredibly grateful to be of service during this time. We are one of countless organizations in the fight against hunger, and try to approach our work every single day with a sense of urgency. It’s not a matter of how people can keep food in the pantry a couple weeks from now. It’s like, ‘We need help today or right now.’”
“My experiences with the Zell-Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies (ZLI) are by far what I’m most thankful for throughout my time at Ross. Every entrepreneur-in-residence and faculty member of ZLI is an extraordinary person, not just because of their expertise but also for their treatment of me and other student founders. The guidance I’ve received and interactions I’ve had with the ZLI team – in addition to other entrepreneurial students – have been truly enjoyable.”