App links food pantries and clients

Jointly owned by the United Way New York City and City Harvest, Plentiful is helping New Yorkers find nearby pantries when they are open for distribution.

The Plentiful app / Photo by Ralph R. Ortega

With inflation and rising food prices it is getting more difficult for New Yorkers to put food on their tables, which means many turn to the food pantries that dot the city for help. However, it’s not always easy to find an open pantry near a person’s home, workplace, or their child’s school, especially since pantries are not open during the same hours as many places to buy food. 

This is where the Plentiful app comes in. The app, originally launched in 2016, was created by the NYC Food Assistance Collaborative and is now jointly owned by United Way New York City’s and City Harvest. The free app is meant to let pantry clients know when a pantry is open and have them book a time rather than wait in a long line for a food distribution. As for the pantries themselves, the app allows them to communicate with one or all clients, and know which one reserved a time to arrive during open hours. 

“It’s such a critical means of support for so many families,” says Cheryl Huber, the United Way’s vice president of food and benefits. “Plenty of families that are working are food insecure in our city. People that are working might not make quite enough to live in such an expensive city and might still be dependent on food pantries.”

The idea for Plentiful came about after the Helmsley Charitable Trust joined with the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy and several key emergency food partners to create the collaborative in 2016. The goal was to figure out how to improve the management of the pantries. 

“There wasn’t a lot of coordination across the emergency food network,” Huber told New York Nonprofit Media. “The collaborative was to bring partners together to really have open discussions about ways that system can be improved. And there was a lot of work that came out of that.” 

The app was the final project of that collaboration. Plentiful is currently being used by 600,000 households and 300 pantries citywide. It can be used on either iOS or Android phones and is available in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Urdu, Bengali, and Korean. 

LaNeda Mondesir, executive director at the Harding Ford Vision, has been using the app for three years to help manage the organization's pantry. 

“The app is awesome,” Mondesir told NYN Media. “It allows us to communicate with our clients for any closures, things of that nature. Before that was available, we had to do everything manually. We would have our seniors come down in weather conditions or situations and had no way to communicate with them. The app allows us to do that now. We can send out messages.”

Mondesir adds that during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the app allowed her to communicate with clients about any shutdowns and social distancing rules.

Huber said she expects more people will sign up for Plentiful as word spreads about the app. 

“In New York, we will always have a food insecure population,” she said. “This is a really great tool to anyone who is going through that in their life, to be able to quickly find a pantry in their neighborhood, make a reservation to get the food that they need, pick it up conveniently and be on their way.”