Jeff Schacher Uses Coding Skills to Help Feed the Hungry
Schacher wanted to make a difference but was strapped for cash, so he built an app instead.
At the end of the 1990s, the dot-com boom was in full swing and Jeff Schacher wanted a piece of the action. A restaurant industry veteran, he didn’t know the first thing about coding. So, he bought a book and started to learn. In just two weeks, he’d built and launched two demo websites. Soon after, he landed a full-time gig with Jupitermedia Corp. and started moving up the coding ranks.
“The agencies in New York City were taking anyone off the street who knew HTML,” Schacher recalls. But his restaurant days weren’t completely behind him. In 2005, Schacher founded his first company, PeachWorks (originally called WhenToManage LLC), which had software designed to help restaurants handle backend logistics like inventory and scheduling.
Schacher wanted to give back to the community, but PeachWorks was a startup with little money to donate. Still, he knew from his days waiting tables that restaurants had one thing in spades: leftover food. Due in part to FDA regulations, 84% of unused restaurant food is thrown out—a contributing factor to the 67 billion pounds of food wasted annually in the United States.
Schacher was already building apps at PeachWorks to help with other restaurant-related logistics, so he began building an app to manage the logistics for leftover food—ensuring it could be transported from restaurants to soup kitchens and other nonprofit agencies that needed it.
Building the Software to Facilitate Food Donations
Food Rescue US is the name of both Schacher's app and the nonprofit he founded in 2011. Food Rescue US falls squarely into the “Uber for X” category—in this case, Uber for food donation. The app brings together the three parties needed to facilitate food donations—food donors (restaurants and grocery stores with excess food), nonprofit receiving agencies (such as food banks) and volunteers willing to shuttle food from one to the other.
Each participant creates a profile on the app. When volunteers sign up, they give their zip code and a delivery radius. Using that radius, the app identifies opportunities to “rescue” food. An algorithm crunches the data that donors and agencies have shared to match volunteers with local recipients. When a volunteer accepts a run, the app maps the route from the volunteer’s starting point to the destination.
A suite of third-party cloud-computing services handles the technical data: Twilio sends text messages to volunteers, while Amazon’s Relational Database Service handles all the backend data. Schacher programmed the app itself in Java, using the AngularJS framework, which enables iOS and Android compatibility.
Food Rescue US’s development team tackles any bugs reported by users by email or phone. So far, more than 20 million meals have been delivered, thanks to the app.
Scaling Food Rescue US Nationwide
While Schacher still works at PeachWorks as Chief Product Officer, he’s also President at Food Rescue US. Growing PeachWorks has taken much of his time in recent years, but he will soon be jumping back into app development as Food Rescue US continues to expand its footprint.
Currently, the Food Rescue US app is active (or set to launch this year) in 20 locations across America. To expand to new cities and ultimately go nationwide, the app’s technology has had to scale up.
It’s really about understanding people and behavior. So far, a lot of improvements in software have been about educating the runner on what to expect in the whole experience.
— Jeff Schacher, President, Food Rescue US
The challenge with that, Schacher says, isn’t so much focused on what tech tools to use to develop the app, but rather how the app should change with users’ needs. “It’s really about understanding people and behavior,” says Schacher. “So far, a lot of improvements in software have been about educating the runner on what to expect in the whole experience: where to go, what to do. How a run works is now all there.”
When he gets back into further developing the app, his plan is to focus on the user experience so that new volunteers can start making runs more quickly and also grow a volunteer community with others in their areas. One of the ways Food Rescue US has already accomplished this is by incorporating a “show my run” function on Facebook for volunteers to share. These social shares are a way to spread the word about Food Rescue US, and inspire other individuals to get involved.
In this way, scale is achieved organically over time. No site director or local organizer is needed on the ground to get things started; all the relevant parties can just use the app. As Schacher’s team sees food-rescuing communities grow in a certain region, they devote technical support resources to that area to make sure the app’s features are working properly.
“As we get new inbound leads from places where we aren’t yet, we store the information and do reporting to see where the action is. Then we build regions where there are opportunities,” says Schacher. “We’re making it self-service for anybody interested in starting a community.”