Philly SNAP: hackathon-built text messaging service to access nutritional assistance retailers begins outreach [VIDEO] - Technical.ly Philly

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Aug. 24, 2011 11:00 am

Philly SNAP: hackathon-built text messaging service to access nutritional assistance retailers begins outreach [VIDEO]

After texting a Philadelphia street address to 267-293-9387 -- using any text-enabled phone regardless of Internet-access -- a Philly SNAP user receives the nearest farmers' market address and other basic info.

Philly SNAP, a project to create a simple text messaging tool sharing nearby farmers’ markets and stores that accept state supplemental nutrition assistance vouchers, is still being moved forward by its team some three months after it was first conceived at the Random Hacks of Kindness held at Drexel University in early June.

Technically Philly was a sponsor of the event, organized locally by Michael Brennan.

The four-person team has launched outreach to hunger-related nonprofit organizations in the hope that they will share their service with their constituencies. SNAP benefits, which stands for supplemental nutritional assistance program, are more commonly known as food stamps.

After texting a Philadelphia street address to 267-293-9387 — using any text-enabled phone regardless of Internet-access — a Philly SNAP user receives the nearest farmers’ market address, its dates and time of operation, the closet two SNAP-participating retailers and information on how to maximize SNAP vouchers through local fresh food initiatives, said Katey Metzroth, who came to Random Hacks interested in food justice from past nonprofit work but without any web development background.

“This became an important issue for me,” she told Technically Philly, lauding team developers Mark Headd, Tim Wisniewski and Danny Chang.

With that interest, Metzroth has led the group’s outreach effort.

Below watch a video of the service.

Many a hackathon project has died a quiet death, never reaching its core audience.

To combat that, Metzroth and team have had a handful of meetings with representatives of the Food Trust, who “were thrilled,” she said, and members of the city’s Dept. of Health, “who seemed a bit more unsure of what we are offering.” The city currently pays for a similar service, Metzroth said. The no-cost Philly SNAP text messaging service will be highlighted on some limited promotional materials from the Food Trust, she added. Next up in outreach efforts will be groups like City Harvest and the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, which also do specific SNAP benefits outreach.

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“Ideally, if you receive these benefits in Philadelphia, you’ll know about Philly SNAP so you can know where to get healthy food nearby to any address,” Metzroth said.

To dispatch messages, the Philly SNAP tool is using a paid service called SMSified from Voxeo Labs, the company for which developer Headd works. Voxeo has committed to support the application for the next year, Metrzroth said. Normal feels apply to the user as charged by her wireless carrier, but, as developer Wisniewski said while developing the project, with the explosion of flat-fee, all-inclusive mobile plans from companies like Boost Mobile and Cricket Wireless, the costs for accessing this information wouldn’t affect most users.

“This is a perfect example of the good SMSified can provide,” said Headd, who has used the tool for a variety of projects, like his Phind It For Me application.

“Even though we’re now at the end of the farmers’ market season,” Metzroth said. “I hope we can develop the relationships over the fall and winter to get the word out so more SNAP benefit recipients will know the variety of options they have next year.”

[Full Disclosure: this reporter volunteered at the Coalition in 2004 and early 2005.]

 

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