Caravan Studios

"So much of what we do [at Caravan] is listen — to problems, to concerns, and to solutions. We've learned a lot during our first year of launching Range, and look forward to better understanding and shaping Range to better meet the needs of youth."

— Sarah Washburn, director of community engagement

Disadvantaged Children Find Summer Meals
Through Mobile Tech

For many kids, summer means camp, the great outdoors, and best of all, no school! But for some kids, no school means no lunches — and that makes summer decidedly less fun. According to the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), only one in seven children who are eligible for free or subsidized school lunches receive summer meals. How do we close this gap and ensure all seven of those kids get a summer meal? This is the mission of Caravan Studios' Range app: helping youth and those who work with them find locations where free summer meals are served. 

Caravan Studios: Building Through Listening

Like Caravan Studios' other apps, Range came out of talking to experts and nonprofits. Caravan staff members were shocked by how many children are not accessing free summer meals — and realized they could do something about it. What if technology could help connect kids to the meals? 

 How Range Works 

Thanks to a generous grant from Microsoft Citizenship, Caravan was able to make this concept a reality. Range is designed to be a tool for "referrers," meaning people who connect youth and families to social services. Referrers include staff from nonprofits, community centers, public libraries, and other organizations that work with youth during the summer months. 

The free app provides a user with the nearest places for youth to get a summer meal. It functions sort of like Yelp, Urban Spoon, or other meal locator apps. It uses GPS and mapping technology to show the distance between the user and nearby meal providers. Range also pulls in data about each meal provider, such as its hours of operation, its phone number, and a brief description. The data comes from WhyHunger, a nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger. Because Range is an app for locating summer meals provided through the USDA Summer Food Service Program, it is only operational during the months of May through August. 

Range as a Resource: Lift Communities 

Dar Verveka, CTO of Lift Communities, first heard about Range from Twitter. She was already familiar with TechSoup and the work of Caravan Studios. Range piqued her interest because it aligned with the work Lift does: connecting people in need with social services. "We're always looking at mobile services that can help impoverished, low income, and homeless communities," she told TechSoup. 

Lift Communities is a nonprofit that pairs advocates with community members in need. The advocates help these community members set personal, financial, and social goals so they can find a job and a safe home and receive a quality education. Through these relationships, the members build a support network so they can continue to build confidence and navigate through life. Verveka thought that Range might be useful for both members and advocates as well as other social services organizations in her network. She expressed appreciation that Caravan staff members listen to a community before they start developing apps for it. 

"I like Caravan apps because they're immediately usable," she said. "They actually talk to nonprofits!" 

How Libraries Can Use Range 

Libraries, particularly those in urban areas, are playing a bigger role in social services. Many larger public library systems (such as Washington, D.C., and San Francisco) are adding social workers to their employee roster. For smaller systems that can't afford a full-time social worker, an app like Range makes perfect sense. Librarians can't provide social services, but they can connect people to them. 

Jessica Pérez Blasko, children and teen services manager at the Lancaster Public Library, posted a flier about Range on the library's community bulletin board. She decided to post the flier because there's a high poverty rate in her community. "I thought there was a chance that the app could connect a family in need to a service that would help," she said. "We don’t get a ton of questions about social services, per se, but we do provide a lot of information about social services!" 

Looking Ahead

Sarah Washburn, director of community engagement, reflected on Range's first year: "So much of what we do [at Caravan] is listen — to problems, to concerns, and to solutions. We've learned a lot during our first year of launching Range, and look forward to better understanding and shaping Range to better meet the needs of youth." One big, exciting change is that Range will also show the location of nearby public libraries, using library data from IMLS. 

This post originally appeared on the TechSoup Blog. It was written by Ginny Mies, senior content curator at TechSoup.