New pantry directory connects people to free food in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia
STATE ISLAND, NY — Non-profit organization Lemon combines “the power of data and hospitality” to help people in the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas access food pantries in their neighborhood.
During the pandemic, Lemontree observed two key issues faced by food insecure people during the pandemic: a lack of access to reliable, up-to-date information about free food nearby and the stigma associated with admission of the need for help.
Through Lemontree’s toll-free helpline and online directorycustomers can receive information about nearby free food resources and support services along the way.
Lemontree’s online directory, launched last July, includes information on more than 3,800 food pantries and food banks in the five boroughs, northern New Jersey and the Philadelphia area, with plans to also cover the southern New Jersey later this year. Users can also sign up to receive text message reminders when nearby food pantries are open.
“The database is the result of thousands and thousands of phone calls to verify information from more than about 50 different data sources,” explained Kasumi Quinlan, community manager at Lemontree. “So we combine all of these resources and work to determine which is the most accurate, and confirm these details regularly. And we also enrich this data with feedback from our customers.”
Each entry in the directory includes hours, address, contact information and number of customer references at the location. It also includes additional information, such as the recommended arrival time, whether people should bring their own bags, and requirements, including showing ID.
“So if [clients] aren’t interested in the hotline part, they still have access to the information we have,” Quinlan added.
The helpline, which launched in 2020, brings the human touch that Lemontree says helps reduce stigma and makes people more likely to use resources.
“We first text them everything they need to know to get food to their neighborhood,” the community manager said. “Second, we meet them with empathy, warmth and humanity. And, unfortunately, that’s something you don’t always find in social services, especially in places that are really overcrowded and understaffed.
According to Quinlan, Lemontree served about 1,500 customers in 2020 and 50,000 in 2021 through the helpline. This year, they average 1,000 customers per week.
“Making our users feel supported in this way through our text messages, through the language that we use, just means that they are more likely to access these resources and they are more likely to s “pressing on us in the future if they need anything else. It also allows us to build a deeper relationship with customers, and they then feel more comfortable sharing their feedback with us” , she said, “This feedback helps us improve our recommendations for the next client.”
Lemontree’s help doesn’t end with pantries. The organization’s food specialists can also help people register for government benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).