Local technology community tackles hunger during ‘civic hack’

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Members of the technology community spent 24 nonstop hours this weekend trying to tackle food insecurity and hunger in Indianapolis.

They were involved in this year’s civic hack, an event aimed at bringing local tech professionals and government together to try to use public data to solve a problem. The event was sponsored by the Indy Chamber, the Open Indy Brigade, Techpoint, and local and state government officials.

The goal of the hack this year was to create a “food compass” app, that will give people in Indianapolis information about enrolling in benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, or the supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, accessing food pantries when they are open, and other resources.

The goal of the hack, said Indy Chamber spokesman Joe Pellman, is to "utilize technology to come up with outside-the-box solutions to some of the major challenges.”

Last year’s hack event had 100 participants. Nearly 130 people registered for this year’s event, which took place at Launch Indy on South Meridian Street.

The event, which started at 5:30 p.m. Friday and ended the same time Saturday evening, kicked off with a speech from Mayor Joe Hogsett about the hunger problem.

There are 200,000 people in Marion County who are using food assistance, said Dave Miner of the Indy Hunger Network. A new study conducted by the group, released at the Indy Civic Hack, found that 22 percent of residents in Marion County have a “food need,” meaning that they are on food assistance or qualify as being food insecure.

The county also has between a 5 million and 6 million gap of meals that people are missing, with 5 percent of residents reporting that they are missing meals.

A big problem, Miner said, is that three-quarters of people who are missing meals are not taking advantage of programs they might be eligible for.

“They were missing meals, not going to a food pantry, not enrolled in SNAP, even thought their information suggests they are probably eligible,” Miner said. “ There’s a significant access issue.”

Miner said he believes the community can make progress on tackling hunger and that he was glad for the tech community’s engagement.

“We don’t want people to think it’s hopeless,” Miner said. “That’s a disincentive for being engaged. We want to raise awareness and raise engagement. There really is hope.”

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