A Chicago non-Profit is providing vital food aid via text

Over the past decade, technology has helped revolutionise the food and drink industry. From pizza delivery apps to sushi conveyor belts, restaurants look to tech to help their business stand out and get an edge in a competitive market.

However, for all the benefits they bring, many of these advances have been largely superficial. While technology has certainly helped everything become more convenient, cases where it has helped make a sizeable social food-specific impact are fewer and further between. A Chicago-based non-profit organisation is looking to change that.

Young girl benefitting from domestic aid Credit: Bread for the World

In the United States, many social welfare plans are struggling to keep up with the rapid technological advances of the 21st Century. Getting access to essential benefits can be time consuming, needlessly complex and confusing. In recent years, this has become particularly true for food stamps.

With the current administration announcing plans to replace the current system with a more hands on “meal-box” approach, uncertainty and antiquated food stamp registration mean that eligible citizens are failing to sign up. The result is that millions are struggling to make ends meet, and end up going hungry as a result.

This is where tech entrepreneurs mRelief have stepped in. In order to help the food aid process become less opaque, mRelief have refined the government’s current complicated eligibility test down to 10 simple questions that users can answer by text in 10 minutes or less. This new approach not only streamlines the system, but also helps whole swathes of people who didn’t realise they were eligible receive badly needed food aid.

mRelief advert Credit: TechCrunch

MRelief’s co-founders Genevieve Nielsen and Rose Afriyie were both inspired by shared experiences of failing social services. Nielsen was scarred by witnessing the breakdown of the social safety net in her native New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, whilst Afriyie learnt the value of social assistance programmes growing up in The Bronx. After attending a presentation at civic tech meetup Chi Hack Night, the pair were inspired to take action.

Innovations in the sector have been sorely needed for a while. According to a blog-post written by two former employees of the Obama administration, navigating the current welfare system can be tantamount to a “part-time job” for those who need to interact with the government on a regular basis. The ease and efficiency with which mRelief operates is just one of the reasons why their service is proving so popular.

mRelief founders Credit: National Geographic

So far, mRelief claim that around 230,000 families across 42 states have used their system to gain access to badly needed food aid and other support services.

According to Nielsen, mRelief’s user base is growing by 10 percent each quarter, highlighting how important this type of product is for people across the country. States like California have now incorporated mRelief’s technology into their own aid programmes, helping to spread the new approach even further.

Homeless being fed Credit: NPR

The success of mRelief shows that technology has a whole lot more to offer than making take-out slightly quicker. By harnessing the power of existing tech solutions, Nielsen and Afriyie have shown how a bit of creative thinking can go a long way to helping those most in need. While times are hard for many across the United States, companies like mRelief show that there are reasons to remain upbeat about the future.

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