The economic crisis created by the COVID epidemic has lead to severe financial hardship for many New Yorkers. Massive lines at food banks have become a sad sign of the times both in New York and across the country.

A real challenge for families is how difficult it is to find even the most basic information - part of a larger pattern of barriers that exist for the disadvantaged in the US.

Most of us are used to services like FreshDirect, GrubHub, Seamless, and DoorDash delivering groceries, meal kits, and takeout 24 hours a day. In stark contrast, searches for food banks in Google Maps return limited and incomplete information even in major cities like New York.

More comprehensive food bank directories do exist - but are difficult to use. And food banks are often open for limited hours that vary widely from provider to provider.

Which food banks are open near me when I am free? What is the best number to call for more information? Getting answers to even basic questions can require clicking on dozens - or even hundreds - of separate links. This is a real problem that tens of thousands of New Yorkers face every single day. It shouldn’t be this hard for a struggling family to find food in New York City.

The good news? We can help.

I built a food bank locator that uses data from Food Bank for NYC and makes it simple to find nearby food banks at a time that is convenient for you in under a minute.
The site uses a Sinatra back end. Food bank data was received as a KML file, an XML variant that was easy to handle with Nokogiri. Once available dates and times are calculated, the GeoKit Gem and Google’s Geocoding API are used to calculate distances.

After a bit of research and some good advice, I settled on Bulma as my front end framework. Bulma is exceptionally easy to use, and the support online is fantastic. Bulma is also designed to be mobile, critical for any modern site, and especially important as many food bank customers may not have a desktop or laptop at home.

I use Google’s Maps and Places services to enhance the user experience with location intelligence and interactive maps. Integrating the JavaScript for this functionality was a bit of a lift - but worth it. Users don’t have to input long addresses, and see their search results on a custom Google Map: making it easy to get directions to and contact food banks.

I delivered the first and only mobile friendly food bank locator for NYC that enables time-based searches - helping families in need navigate food assistance during a pandemic.
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