Miami University students invent mobile food donation app to target young crowd

CINCINNATI -- A group of Miami University students invented a way for you to select a can of beans, a box of cereal or even a carton of eggs to donate to your local food bank—all while never leaving your couch.

By downloading NomNom Nation, a free smartphone app that rolled out to Android users last week, people can allocate donations to listed items most needed by their local food bank.

"Some people don't like giving to causes because they feel like they're just blindly giving money to a cause," said Brent Bielinski, the 25-year-old CEO of Cincinnati-based NomNom Nation , LLC. "This kind of allows people to get a similar experience to actually buying the food themselves and dropping it off."

The app is the first of its kind to allow donors to make specific donations through their smartphones, and it's a move to target young donors who would otherwise likely never travel to a food bank themselves.

NomNom Nation encourages friendly competition through a monthly "food race," where users can form groups and challenge each other to donate the most.

"We're racing the food from your phone to your local food bank. You don't have to set up the bins and have everybody drop the food off and spend all that extra gas and time collecting it," said Bielinski.

For the next month, donations made through the app will go only to the Shared Harvest Foodbank in Fairfield, which serves a five-county region, as Bielinski and his two partners make sure everything works as it should.

The food bank can purchase eight meals with just $1. App users donated 360 meals in just two days. 

"The children who receive free and reduced breakfast and lunches are soon to be home for summer and their parents are facing feeding them one or two extra meals per week. They don't have the budget, so launching the app at this time could be better for us," said Tina Osso, executive director at the Shared Harvest Foodbank. 

The Ohio Association of Foodbanks has invested $5,000 in the NomNom Nation LLC., so the local company can offer a free IOS version of their app allowing iPhone users to use it this June. The association says it will support the young entrepreneurs with their plan to take the app state--and eventually--nationwide. There are 12 member food banks in Ohio and 205 across the country.

"I was quite frankly blown away," said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. "I've worked with a lot of major corporations over time and I was really shocked at the thorough, extensive research and the development that they had done as well as the business plan."

Bielinski runs the company out out of his Cincinnati living room and meets with his partners on Google Hangout. He works part-time at a local construction company to pay his rent, as he waits for the business to make a profit. 

"In the entrepreneurial community, there's a term called boot strapping, which is basically when you're trying to start a business but you don't have any money.  And obviously coming out of college, I didn't have any money," he said. 

He founded the company two years ago with three friends during a startup competition at Miami University. Bielinski graduated from Miami in 2013 with a bachelor's degree in business.

"Some people think entrepreneurship is sitting in a room, throwing darts at a board and seeing what sticks," said  Bielinski. "That wasn't our philosophy.

RELATED: Check out WCPO's registry of local startup companies

The college student wanted to start a company that would alleviate a social problem, but it took a trip to the Oxford Community Choice Pantry, where their food supply had significantly declined, for the purpose of his business to take shape.  

"Here we are at Miami University -- a really nice college town with a lot of affluence among the student population, but there's still a pretty strong hunger problem," he said.  "All of a sudden, I was like wait a minute. [The problem] isn't thousands of miles away. It's a quarter of a mile away. It's right in my backyard."

The group won first place in the startup competition, but their idea didn't stop there.

"We went out and we started testing our assumption and our hypothesis, and they said 'Wow, this is a really great idea. We think you should keep pursuing it,'' he said. 

So Bielinski surveyed grocery store shoppers about their donation habits and made dozens of trips to meet with food bank directors.

"There are a just incredibly passionate people who are really enthusiastic about ending hunger in America," he said. "I share that passion. I share that enthusiasm."

He eventually met Shared Harvest Foodbank director Tina Osso, who would be the first to jump on board.

"I didn't even know this was possible," said Osso. "It's thrilling. It really is. These guys are just a little younger than my son."

Osso said the food bank, which distributed 7.1 million pounds of food last year to people in Butler, Warren, Preble, Darke and Miami counties, has continuously struggled to reach a younger donor crowd.

"Our volunteer

base and our donor base are graying. You know, the average age of a volunteer in our pantry network is 68 years old. We need the strong arms and hearts of younger people," said Osso.

But she hopes the new app will help with that. She said the food bank has sent out postcards about its partnership with NomNom Nation and it would begin publicizing the app on social platforms Tuesday.

Bielinski said the company will eventually charge participating food banks five percent of the donations generated from the app in order to sustain the company.

"None of us are looking at this as a way to get rich or wealthy. If anything, I'd love to have this be kind of a lifestyle business where I can live simply, comfortably and not need a whole lot of money at all." he said.

Watch the video below to find out how the app works.

 

Six more non-profit apps you should know about:

 

1.) INSTEAD | Available on the App Store

This app encourages users to make a small change in their own daily routines to make a big change in someone else's life. Instead of buying three cups of coffee, for example, they suggest brewing your own coffee and provide clean water for three people. Or instead of buying three meals at work, they suggest packing your own lunch and provide HIV medicine for three months.

Learn more about the app here .

 

2.) CHARITY MILES | Available on the App Store and on Google Play

Ready to become a sponsored athlete? Turn on this GPS-enabled app, choose a charity and press start. This app tracks your distance as your exercise and the money earned. Bikers earn 10 cents a mile and walkers and runners earn 25 cents a mile.

There are 16 charities to choose from, including Autism Speaks, Feeding America, Habitat for Humanity, The Wounded Warrior Project, Stand Up To Cancer and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Learn more about the app here .

 

3.) FEEDIE | Available on the App Store

Smartphone users who love to Instagram their food can now share a photo of their meal for a good cause. This app wants restaurant customers to upload a photo of their food on Feedie and share it on their social networks (Google +, Foursquare, Facebook or Twitter). Participating restaurants will then donate money to The LunchBox Fund , a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a daily meal to extremely poor and at-risk school children in South Africa.

Learn more about the app here .

 

4.) I CAN GO WITHOUT | Available on the App Store

This app encourages its users to pledge to make lifestyle changes (such as giving up a cup of coffee or a beer each week) and then enables them to support a charity with the money they would have spent on that routine. Users can create fundraisers and can choose which charity to support.

Learn more about the app here .

 

 

5.) DONATE A PHOTO | Available on the App Store and in Google Play

For ever photo you share through this app, Johnson & Johnson donates $1 to a cause you want to help. You can upload one photo per day. More than a 218,700 photos have been donated so far. The money has provided vaccines for children, put recycling bins in classrooms, restored public parks, paid for cleft lip surgeries and more .

Learn more about the app here.

 

 

6.) CHECK-IN FOR GOOD | Available on the App Store and on Google Play

This app works with businesses to offer a $1 donation for every customer that comes in and uses the app to "check-in" at using the GPS location on their smartphone. App users who use the app at one of the donation hot-spots can then select from a list of causes they wish to support.

Learn more about the app here .

NOTE: Information about the above non-profit apps was pulled from their websites (links included above).


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