mobile phone user in subway

Boston launches chatbot, donation platform to strengthen food access

Boston Mayor Kim Janey and the city’s Office of Food Access (OFA) launched an SMS chatbot and food donation platform to strengthen its citywide food access network.

The online platform and the chatbot, which was created with help from the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM), aim to give city residents a centralized source for food resource information. OFA also expects the two initiatives to connect existing programs more efficiently within the community – responding to goals in Boston’s Food Access Agenda.

“Ensuring every Boston resident has access to nutritious meals is essential to building an equitable City,” Janey said. “I’m excited to introduce this creative option to reduce food insecurity. This tech tool enables residents to connect with or provide services when it’s most convenient for them.”

The chatbot, originally introduced after the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, allowed residents to request a grocery delivery from the city’s emergency food assistance operations, according to MONUM officials. OFA Director Catalina López-Ospina cited the success of the initial version as the catalyst for the tool’s current design.

“In the first iteration of the chatbot we received very positive feedback from residents and we hope this tool helps residents navigate all the resources that are available in the City,” López-Ospina said.

Boston residents can access the chatbot by texting the word FOOD to a specific number – they do not need to be connected to the internet to communicate with the tool.  The chatbot is available in English and seven other languages.

OFA’s online platform aims to reduce overall food waste by facilitating exchanges between those that have food available for donation and those that can distribute it, or need it themselves. Organizations and individuals that wish to join the network must create an account through this portal before they can post donations. Once posted, the donations can be claimed by others on the platform.

To curb misuse, OFA approves donations posted on the platform; however, the logistics of the food exchange must be handled by the donor and the receiver. Individuals and organizations claiming a donation must contact the donor and arrange for pickup themselves.

“By reducing digital and language barriers, the Office of Food Access’ goal is to create a more equitable food system where everyone is welcome and can be connected with the resources they need,” López-Ospina said.

About the Author

Shourjya Mookerjee is an associate editor for GCN and FCW. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, and has written for Vox Media, Fandom and a number of capital-area news outlets. He can be reached at [email protected] – or you can find him ranting about sports, cinematography and the importance of local journalism on Twitter @byShourjya.

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