Coordinating Survival Kit Distribution

A system streamlining on-the-ground distribution of homeless aid packages by thousands of volunteers

Technology

Firebase, iOS, Mapbox

NPOs involved

The Giving Spirit

Team

Bryan Chiang, Sam Chai, Yuhan Liu, Natalia Luzuriaga, Kevin Li, Steve Jiang, Edward Zhang, Aneri Patel

Background

The Giving Spirit (TGS) and Handle with Care (HWC) are nonprofit organizations that provide aid to the homeless around the Los Angeles area by assembling and delivering survival kits (clothing, medicine, food, hygiene supplies).

Problem
Kit Distribution

First, current kit distribution is done in a completely arbitrary manner. Volunteers pick up kits and randomly visit different regions in LA to distribute them. This significantly hinders the efficiency of kit distribution and potential volunteer impact since there is no visibility into where and when deliveries are made.

  • Volunteers often visit the same places, resulting in redundancy in the areas served. This also creates missed opportunities where many areas of the city are unserved although there were more than enough kits.
  • Coordinators have little insight into their organization’s impact throughout the city (e.g. number of kits delivered, number of homeless helped, and regions served). Without this data, it is incredibly difficult for TGS and HWC to plan for future events and apply for grants.
  • Lighter colors indicate served regions. Without proper volunteer coordination, served areas often form in clusters - leaving large homeless populations unreached.
    Lighter colors indicate served regions. Without proper volunteer coordination, served areas often form in clusters - leaving large homeless populations unreached.
    Volunteer Communication

    Second, communication is currently performed in an ad hoc manner with walkie-talkies, text messages, and calls. There is no way to contact and coordinate volunteers at scale with current communication methods.

  • TGS and HWC would like to inform volunteers of predetermined areas of high need (e.g. under a highway overpass, known homeless camp locations, etc.) before distribution.
  • It is also critical to send mass notifications to volunteers during the event to coordinate volunteer groups in case of sudden changes.
  • Solution

    Working closely with The Giving Spirit and Handle with Care, we built an integrated digital solution to streamline on-the-ground distribution tracking, communication, and coordination.

    Mobile App For Volunteers

    In spring 2019, we built out the mobile application to solve the kit distribution problem. The app lets volunteers know in real time exactly which areas have been served and which areas are most in need – eliminating inefficiency and increasing the number of homeless assisted.

    Volunteers first sign in through their phone with a user-friendly flow, skipping the usual hour of standing in line to check into the distribution event.

    In the main map view, the deliveries feature allows volunteers to easily see where past kit deliveries have been made and drive to unserved areas.

    Easily view pending requests and submit your own.
    Easily view pending requests and submit your own.

    When volunteers drive past a large cluster of homeless people but don't have enough kits on them, the requests feature lets volunteers request extra help, making sure that every homeless person gets the supplies they need.

    Requests and deliveries can be easily added to the map in a few seconds.

    Tap a request and enter information to clear it.
    Tap a request and enter information to clear it.
    Web Admin Dashboard

    In spring 2020, we tackled the communication problem by creating a web admin dashboard. The dashboard enables push notifications to coordinate large-scale volunteer movement. It also displays hour-by-hour, day-by-day views of deliveries and requests to let coordinators plan out which areas subsequent distribution events should target. Finally, the landmark feature allows coordinators to mark known locations of homeless activity, guiding new volunteers to more effective and efficient starting locations.

    Impact

    The web admin dashboard and client app have made it possible to scale the distribution process for TGS, HWC, and hopefully other similar organizations in the future. This integrated solution has the potential to streamline the distribution of over 1,500 kits per year through volunteer donation runs coordinated by The Giving Spirit and Handle with Care.

    We look forward to bringing the infrastructure developed here to other geographic-based experiences – please reach out if you have a similar use case in mind.

    Max and Bryan volunteer with The Giving Spirit's 2019 Winter Outreach to distribute survival kits and test the app. It was a very awe-inspiring experience!
    Max and Bryan volunteer with The Giving Spirit's 2019 Winter Outreach to distribute survival kits and test the app. It was a very awe-inspiring experience!

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    Last updated August 15th, 2021

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