If you’re going to an NFL game and want to know where to park or where to find concessions, Agustin Gonzalez’s company Paranoid Fan can find those points of interest in real time. If you want to stay in your seat and have a hot dog delivered to you, Paranoid Fan can make that happen too. It brings mapping and food delivery to live experiences.
But right now, no one is going to an NFL game, or any public events. The COVID-19 pandemic has put an end, for the time being, to live experiences. So Gonzalez pivoted, like so many business owners, and brought his mapping and delivery technology to food banks.
The coronavirus pandemic has put a strain on food banks across the country as businesses shutter and Americans lose their jobs. Gonzalez used to live in Manhattan (he now lives in Dallas), and he says it broke his heart to see the long food lines all over New York City amid the crisis. “Right now, probably about a third of food banks and pantries in New York City do delivery. The rest do pickup orders,” he says. “What happens is, for example if one opens at 8 a.m., they literally have a line out the door and around the block at 8 a.m.”
Called Nepjun, his new platform digitizes the infrastructure of food banks. Nepjun helps food banks and pantries set a menu, confirm packaging, and develop a protocol for distributing orders efficiently and safely. Those in need can use Nepjun.com to find nearby food banks that are working with the platform, place online orders, and select either curbside pickup in a specific time slot, which could reduce those lines and help enforce social distancing guidelines, or delivery, for which runners will fulfill orders aided by the company’s optimized routing technology.
Gonzalez says it was around mid-March when he realized the Paranoid Fan technology could help out in this way, and it took only a few weeks to develop the platform and start establishing relationships with food banks. Nepjun publicly launched May 1 and has already been setting up and forging relationships with food banks across New York City. One partner is Encore Community Services, which focuses on helping older New Yorkers live independently. Encore’s home delivery meals program serves about 1,500 clients on the west side of Manhattan, says Encore COO Judith Castillo.
“Everything we were doing before was [done] manually,” she says. “We did everything through Excel databases, and basically the routing, I kid you not, was done based on someone’s knowledge, just institutional knowledge, of where clients live, which route numbers correspond to which areas, and so on.” With Nepjun, all those elements are streamlined, optimized for efficiency, and organized on the Nepjun platform.
“It’ll help us capture the need,” Castillo says. Now, clients in need of a meal can place their own orders through the platform, or, if they’re not computer savvy, they can contact a team of what Encore calls Wellness Callers, who can place those orders for them. “We’ll be able to get these things in real time and get them out to people in real time, versus the transactional shuffle of paperwork in order to get those started.”
Currently, there is no cost to food banks or pantries to use Nepjun; Gonzalez says they have some “patient investors” and don’t want financial friction to interfere with getting these services off the ground. He adds that runners are paid competitively, though the platform is also accepting volunteers to deliver these meals, just as volunteers help staff food pantries normally. “One of the things that we have seen is that people want to help and people want to lend a helping hand,” Castillo says, though at a time when food pantries are overwhelmed, coordinating that is another hurdle for staff. “We had all these different parts of working systems that didn’t really speak to each other, so now this can help streamline all of that into one place.”