SOS Food: Fighting Food-Insecurity with Text Messages

Robin NICHOLS

3 min reading time

SOS Food fights food insecurity with text messages

SOS Food offers an automated SMS service for the homeless that lets them know where they can access nearby free meals

An estimated 6 million French adults are food-insecure – 2.5 million of whom are left without aid.  Furthermore, 44% of homeless shelters with heavy demand report having limited food supplies, a worrying fact when we consider the percent of requests for food has jumped from 25% in 2000 to 50% in 2015.[1]

These are disheartening statistics.  While various charitable associations, such as Au Cœur de la Précarité, la Soupe Saint-Eustache, À Manger Pour Tous, and Les Restos du Cœur, do provide free meals, getting the word out to the homeless population has always been a challenge. Most food-insecure people rely on word of mouth to know where they can access a free meal, but for reasons of consistency and reliability, this clearly isn’t an ideal way of communicating.

 The “SOS Food” project is born

80% of homeless people have a mobile phone

“80% of homeless people have a mobile phone”

This was the problem Rafael Millán, Paule-Emma Duloir, Xuan Bich Mai Thi, and Moufid Jaber, all former students of Le Wagon, decided to tackle.  They wanted to find a way to reliably let French food-insecure people know where they could find a free meal.  Their initiative turned into the project “SOS Food.”

The project is premised on the fact that, according to a study by INSEE, 80% of the homeless population possess a mobile phone. Since very few of them have reliable access to the internet, text messages were an ideal way to make the SOS food project a reality.

The idea for SOS Food, conceived in January 2017, was to first index food aid associations on a central website.  Then, SOS Food could offer two kinds of services to the homeless:

Text message iconSporadic service: by sending an address, postal code or metro stop to 06 44 63 96 96, the person in need receives a text message informing them where they can get a free meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the next 24 hours near them.

 

Phone tower iconSubscription: the person in need automatically receives an SMS each evening with three meal options for the following day. Sending the keyword ‘alerte,’ followed by an address, postal code or metro stop will start the subscription.

CALLR helps SOS Food fight food-insecurity via SMS

We were very eager to get involved with SOS Food. It’s a great initiative that not only gives back to the community but also shows the power of good tech ideas and the French start-up community.”

Taoufik Zagdoud, CEO of CALLR

To build this kind of a system, the founders of SOS Food needed a service that could reliably automate the sending of these text messages.  Through friends at Le Wagon, Taoufik Zagdoud, CEO of CALLR, heard about the project and wanted to help. “We were very eager to get involved with SOS Food. It’s a great initiative that not only gives back to the community but also shows the power of good tech ideas and the French start-up community,” explains Taoufik.

As a voice and SMS API, CALLR will be a big help in allowing SOS Food to do a two-month test-run of their services in the Paris area, starting in May 2017.  SOS Food is also calling on other businesses to support their crowd-funding goal of raising 1,500 Euros before May 4 to boost the project.  This amount will allow SOS Food to test and make improvements on their model, all the while helping 130 homeless people a day find a free meal.

If want to contribute, you can donate to SOS Food here

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[1] Data from ONPES, INSEE, Credoc, Secours Catholique