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Food tech nonprofit Lemontree is expanding into DC

DC now has a new, tech-focused solution for those seeking information on food available in their area. 

Lemontree sends out alerts so residents can better access food resources. (Courtesy photo)

To help end hunger, a tech-enabled food nonprofit just landed in DC.

Lemontree, a nonprofit that connects residents of different municipalities and states with food resources, just added DC as its latest city. Lemontree was created at the start of the pandemic when founders Kasumi Quinlan and Alex Godin realized just how difficult it was for residents to find information about local food pantries — and text messages were an ideal solution.

“We tried to figure out: If all this food is out there — there are more food pantries in the United States than there are McDonald’s — and if all this food is out there, why aren’t people taking it?” Quinlan told Technical.ly.

Food pantries, Quinlan said, don’t always have a website or regularly update the ones that do exist. Thus, it can be difficult to find hours, requirements for use or anything else to know before visiting. Simultaneously, Quinlan said there’s a huge stigma around food resources. She’s spoken to many who had an empty fridge but felt like they didn’t have enough need to use a food pantry. She thinks it’s because food pantries tend to be geared towards donors, not clients.

“That ends up alienating people who need to be using these resources because they don’t feel like they’re in that group of ‘needy’ people,” Quinlan said. “So that’s why we started the Lemontree food helpline.”

Lemontree has an online database featuring information on food pantries for those who want to quickly browse, but most sign up for its text message helpline. Users need to answer a short questionnaire on where they’re located, what phone number to use for texts and what resources they’re seeking — SNAP benefits, food pantries or soup kitchens. Lemontree will immediately send a text notifying users that it received their information and will refer them to resources within a few hours. Users can also easily change their information, if necessary.

After signing up, Lemontree will send a dashboard link to a personalized list of local food resources based on what’s closest to a user and what has the best reviews (users can also receive the resource information via text if they’d prefer). If users have any questions, Lemontree has a customer service team that Quinlin said leads with empathy and humanity. A week or two later, Lemontree will follow up to evaluate the user’s experience and add the feedback into its system.

Lemontree can be accessed online if residents only have computer access, but Quinlan said the text message model is a very accessible way to reach people. Most of those living under the federal poverty line have cell phones, making texts an easy way to get information out there.

“Hunger can look like a lot of different things, but it’s often invisible because you don’t know whether your neighbor has had enough to eat last night, or you don’t know if they’ve skipped breakfast,” Quinlan said.

Lemontree hopes to launch in every major metro on the East Coast this year, Quinlan said. She feels the helpline is particularly well-suited for cities and metro areas because they tend to have tons of resources — residents just don’t always know about them. Longer-term, she also wants to develop Lemontree to support the food pantries, as well, and be the bridge between people who need food and the food that’s available.

“One in 10 DC households experiences food insecurity and we would really love to change that,” Quinlan said. “Not just connecting people to that information, but also supporting them and making sure that they feel comfortable accessing these resources, and just knowing that they have somebody who’s on their side.”

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