Capital Area Food Bank beats hunger in the region with Big Data.
Sometimes the best way to begin to attack a problem is to visualize it.
The Capital Area Food Bank, the main supplier of fruits, vegetables, canned goods and more to charities in the region, recently developed a map showing where food is delivered in greater Washington and where the need is greatest.
The analysis revealed gaps in the system, particularly in the suburbs, where relatively high median incomes mask the poverty in our midst.
The exercise also showed something else: the power of data to better target relief efforts.
Chief executive Nancy E. Roman said the nonprofit has launched several initiatives to get food to the scattered pockets of hungry. It has started directing some of its stocks of fresh food to outlying distribution hubs run by its charity and church partners, bringing the produce closer to the people.
It is running a bus around Prince William County to deliver lunches to some 300 low-income children who maybe missing their free or subsidized meals now that schools are out for the summer. It has established fresh-food markets in about a dozen schools to make produce even more accessible to urban dwellers.
“You can’t eat healthy without health food,” Roman said.
Such efforts are only the start as the foodbank applies its version of Big Data analyses to the problem of hunger. The nonprofit organization has overlaid its map of service gaps with data showing places where business is percolating.
The idea is to identify potential business partners in those neighborhoods and rally them to the cause.
The timing could be fortuitous. “Wellness” is becoming a mantra in corporate America, and many companies are taking a newinterest in social works as a way to recruit and retain from the wave of millennial wunderkinds entering the workplace.
“The funny thing about employees: They turn out to be people,” Roman said.
People who are often interested in serving the communities around them. Roman hopes to create a network of business leaders and “neighborhood captains” to advise the group, and let ideas for new services bubble up from the people closest to the need.
“Whenyou start talking to partners, you often find answers that are better than your own,” she said.
Think of it as bringing fresh eyes to the problem.
Volunteers Karen Chan, center, and Clara Hernandez, right, helped at the Capital Area Food Bank inWashington in 2013.