INSPIRE Award Submission

INSPIRE Award Submission

Burlington, Ontario
-
July 2, 2020

Starting with an unscalable web technology platform, RedBit had a great feat before them to help Second Harvest’s Food distribution program go national. Then came COVID-19 leading to a 40% increase in demand for food from food-insecure families, which expedited the urgency to expand nationwide and to support a grant portal to distribute $4.5M in federal funding to appropriate charities for COVID-19 relief.

Taking into account the gravity of the situation, Second Harvest CEO Lori Nikkel turned to Microsoft Gold Partner RedBit. In just three weeks, RedBit rescaled and optimized the FoodRescue.ca platform on Azure, added a feature to enable non-food donations such as hand sanitizer and toilet paper, and launched a mobile app integrated with Dynamics 365 to make it easier for donors to donate food. On top of all of this, RedBit created a grant portal in under a week, to support the equitable distribution of federal relief funding to appropriate charities across the country.

“The scaling of Second Harvest's online platform FoodRescue.ca would not have been possible without the hard work, support and talent of the RedBit team,” said Lori Nikkel, CEO of Second Harvest. “To have this technology available across the country so quickly has help thousands of communities get food to people in need during this time of unprecedented crisis.” Lori Nikkel, CEO, Second Harvest

Using technology to support basic human need: food

When it comes down to it, food is one of the most basic, fundamental human needs. Redistributing food from those who have excess to those in need is what Second Harvest has been doing for the past 35 years. Their impact goes beyond putting food on the table, every 1 pound of food rescued prevents 4 pounds of greenhouse gas equivalents from entering the atmosphere increasing the positive impact on the environment.  As the largest food rescue organization in Canada, Second Harvest has rescued more than 200 million pounds of food –16 million of that in the last year alone.  

Second Harvest’s dual mission of hunger relief and environmental protection is the passion of CEO Lori Nikkel, whose vision has been to build a national solution for Canada and then to scale beyond to the rest of the world. Lori turned to technology to help her modernize and simplify reach and capacity. Foodrescue.ca is a Second Harvest online matchmaking platform that connects food donors to social service organizations that feed the hungry. The platform, designed and implemented in late 2019, was big on vision but received a failing grade in performance. The  solution failed to scale beyond a few hundred users.

Challenges

Even before COVID-19, the Foodrescue.ca platform was unusable for high user loads. Not only were response times terribly slow, but with no mobile capabilities, some large-scale donors refused to use the platform at all, and it was serving only 43% of the agencies in the existing network. Second Harvest had to scramble, relying on manual processes to try and coordinate the pick-up of donated food for the thousands of people who were now relying on food donations to feed themselves and their families. It was a nightmare. Food was going to waste. Families were going hungry.

Innovative technology developer RedBit optimizes the Azure cloud solution

Ontario-based RedBit leapt into action. RedBit, who did not build the original platform, had previously analyzed the weaknesses of the existing platform and discovered that it was failing.This past year’s highlights included reducing the API calls between the platform and dynamics from 200,000 to 18,000. Then came the COVID crisis. RedBit expedited Second Harvest’s 2020 plan to go national into just one week, to enable distribution of funding and food. They separated the platform into four servers from one monolithic server and are employing more modern technology such as Azure Functions, enabling it to meet the increasing demands and to improve the user experience for all. They had already leveraged the Power Platform and extended the common data model for the specific needs of Second Harvest. They integrated with the common data service using the REST APIs for the mobile app as well as their volunteer connect feature a feature that is on hold during COVID-19 but ready to go once restrictions are lifted.  

“We were despondent until RedBit came along. They embedded themselves in our company and culture and immediately set to work. We consider them passionate members of our team who will stop at nothing to get the job done. Because of RedBit, food is sitting on the tables of families instead of in landfill sites. It is amazing how quickly they can match our vision to the right technology, delivering solutions that are helping us feed the most vulnerable, across every region in our country.” Veronica Summerhill, Acting National Director of Foodrescue.ca

Pandemic drives expansion and enhancements to food rescue service

Thanks to RedBit, Second Harvest has been able to ramp up Foodrescue.ca to:  

  • provide more availability and selection of foods for those in need
  • increase the number of distribution opportunities for closed restaurants and others with excess food
  • further reduce the amount of edible foods ending up in landfills
  • extend the service to those working remotely, not in front of a computer
  • extend service nationwide  
  • expand to include critical non-food items such as hand sanitizer and toilet paper  
  • enable Second Harvest to distribute $4.5 Million in federal grant funding to charities across the country

And they’ve managed to do all this while working within a live environment that is continuing to handle hundreds of inbound calls every day, opening a new location, working with more donors and agencies, and feeding more people than ever before.  

Microsoft Technology Stack

Even before the grant funding feature was added, sign-ups by donors and charitable organizations had increased by 40%, which subsequently increased even more significantly with the funding addition.  

For RedBit, this program was a project that simply needed to be done. Working ‘round the clock was a privilege for the development team, who jumped at the opportunity to make a difference during this pandemic.

Social Impact So Far

Thanks in large part to RedBit's ability to help them quickly scale, Foodrescue.ca has made major strides in their' No Hunger No Waste' mandate:

Case Studies and Supporting References

References:

https://www.redbitdev.com/media-releases/redbit-helps-second-harvest-scale-foodrescue-ca-to-aid-covid-19-relief (will replace with published news if it becomes available)

April 14 news item:  
https://globalnews.ca/video/6813536/canadian-food-rescue-charity-continues-their-essential-service-during-covid-19

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