Can food insecurity be addressed through a software program? With custom software created for area nonprofits, Polk County’s IT Department is developing the answer. 

Tasked by the Polk County Board of Supervisors in early summer 2019, Polk County developers began studying up to 15 nonprofits addressing food insecurity and hunger in the county to learn how they communicated with each other and with volunteers. The application is funded by Polk County, and may launch in an initial phase later this summer for county organizations. 

“This food insecurity issue is of high importance for every member of the Board of Supervisors, so this is basically a directive to us to help in solving the problem,” said Daniel Radkey, senior application developer for Polk County.

Organizations in the county have long known that pen-and-paper tracking by individual nonprofits has not been able to account for all the data organizations are managing during regular operations. 

“The whole idea is to have more voices, not less — to have more organizations involved, not less,” Radkey said. “So instead of building a single program, or a single application for a single program … we decided to go the platform route, which means that all of the individual programs that are participating in food recovery can utilize the software, which empowers them to track the routing, the sorting and the logging of food from the various stopping points.” 

Collaboration between nonprofits has also been limited by staff and volunteers’ ability to share data between organizations, and existing software on the market didn’t meet the needs of Polk County organizations, Radkey said. 

“This is a niche market, something that wouldn’t necessarily be built within the private sector since there isn’t necessarily a profit motive to this,” he said. “If you were to attempt to wrap your arms around the problem, these data points haven’t been readily available to address the need of the problem … [and] having these metadata points is the first step in truly addressing the food insecurity problem.”

The web-based application’s tracking features could ultimately shed light on more efficient routes for partners in the metro network. The initial launch will allow individual programs to manage and maintain a list of donors, manage personnel and volunteers, manage pickup and delivery routes, and log the amount of food collected and distributed. 

The county has developed its own software applications since 2010, and this application is designed to scale as more organizers join the platform. 

“As the programs that participate grow, the application is built to accommodate that level of growth,” Radkey said. “This application is not limited to just Polk County. We can actually scale this out to Dallas County and Story County, and all the various other counties and even statewide applications as well. We’re able to grow this beyond just the scope of the needs of Polk County.” 

A future second phase of the platform will allow donors and recipients to log into the platform to download reports and update their own operating details in the network, Radkey said. The development team also plans to introduce Android and iOS applications. 

“We’re passionate about solving the problem, and developing a product to serve Polk County,” Radkey said. 

Iowa Stops Hunger is a year-long Business Publications Corporation initiative to bring awareness and action to food insecurity in Iowa. Stories related to this initiative will tagged.