By Angela H. Hill
Many who devote their lives to helping others often say they feel called to a particular profession or volunteer work, whether that’s becoming a church pastor or heading a charitable program.
Patrick County native Adam Wright said he felt called to help develop a mobile app.
Called FeedTheNation, Wright’s app is designed to share information quickly and efficiently so that those in need can connect with those who can provide.
Wright works at EMI Imaging, but it’s his volunteer work at the Henry County Food Pantry that led him to work with lead programmer Caleb Smith on the web-based program. In addressing the January 12 meeting of the Patrick County Economic Development Authority, Wright shared what he’s seen serving 700 families over a six-month period, and how his app might help.
All food pantries that receive USDA support are required to collect certain data before allowing a resident to obtain food. FeedTheNation captures that data electronically – eliminating paper shuffling — and allows the food pantry to quickly discern pressing auxiliary needs, such as employment, transportation, health-care services, and affordable childcare, Wright explained.
Recipients can then receive text messages when there’s a match, he explained. For example, those who don’t have vehicles but are looking for work would receive a text when transportation is available to a job fair. Those who need childcare could receive a list of all providers in their ZIP codes, he continued.
“You can see the hot spots as they’re happening, because before they go to the unemployment office, they go to the food pantry,” Wright said.
The custom messages are sent out blindly, meaning the sender doesn’t know the names or demographics of those receiving the messages. Plus, those receiving messages can chose whether to respond, which provides real-time feedback.
Wright said several agencies are beta testing the app, including the Workforce Center in Martinsville, the Harvest Foundation in Martinsville, Salem-based Feeding America in Southwest Virginia, and the Martinsville Chamber of Commerce. There are 25,000 people now in the app’s database, from Bristol to north of Roanoke to Danville.
Wright approached the EDA because he’s looking for a county to try out the app, and he hopes that county will be Patrick.
“I need a county to say, ‘I’m with you’” Wright told the EDA. “I have to find somebody, and I’d rather it be Patrick County. Will Patrick County be a pilot site, and work with us and help us to grow it?”
So far, Wright has been in talks with Disaster Relief Food Ministries and the food pantry at John D. Bassett High School, both of which serve Patrick County residents. Other agencies and entities that could benefit from the app include social services and the county’s workforce investment board, he added.
“I’d like for each county to have the app so that employers can go to the county and say, ‘Hey, I need X number of employees’” Wright said. Agencies can then help connect potential employees with jobs. “We have a tremendous number of businesses that want to expand, but can’t expand because they can’t find employees [with the right skill set].”
Wright said that charitable organizations can also use the app to collect and organize data that can help provide accountability and demonstrate particular areas of need.