Help feed hungry families through your smartphone this holiday

Help feed hungry families through your smartphone this holiday

Got big plans for today? A 20-pound turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce?

If only all Chicagoans were so lucky. One in six people in Cook County are "food insecure," meaning they're not certain of their next meal.

But this holiday season, the Greater Chicago Food Depository is helping people with plenty give a little back to hungry families. With a new smartphone app, Eat Out, Check in, Feed Chicago, people can sign up to automatically give a donation every time they check in at a restaurant from now through Dec. 31.

"We're always looking for new ways to bring in donations, especially since we're seeing a record need right now. We're serving 85 percent more people than we did five years ago," said Food Depository spokesman Bob Dolgan.

In addition to rising demand, the food bank's supply has shrunk. Dolgan said it's received about 3 million fewer pounds in food donations. And while the organization appreciates any donation, whether it's a can of soup or cash, just one dollar can buy three meals for a person in need.

The app was developed for the Food Depository by advertising agency Leo Burnett. Lenora Rand, executive creative director for Leo Burnett, said her team was really shocked to learn about how many people in Chicago are hungry.

"The thing that really hit us is that Chicago is so well known for food, and yet we have one in six people were hungry," said Rand. "We wanted to find a way that we could help people be aware of that fact and give them sort of an easy way to do something about it."

They created a video to let people know about the app and how it works:

Rand's team discovered SnoBall, a startup that's helping nonprofits harness the power of social media to bring in donations. Through Snoball, they created an app that lets people set up a donation amount that's automatically charged to their credit card everytime they check in at specific locations around Chicago using Foursquare or Facebook. SnoBall has worked with other food banks in Austin, Texas and Indiana, as well as other nonprofits across the U.S.

Rand said this kind of effort is very new, so they don't know how much money the app will raise, but they're hopeful that it will be successful.

"I think once people hear about this, it will really connect with people emotionally," said Rand. "During the holidays, we all want to celebrate and have a party, but the party isn't complete unless everyone's invited."

You can sign up for the app through the Food Depository's website. The video for the app features local indie folk group, Me, You & Her, and their rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" will be available as a free download for anyone who donates to Greater Chicago Food Depository during the holiday season.

 Photo credit: Shutterstock/roasted turkey

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