Twitter users create free food bank app after discovering old one charged high fees

In the wake of last week’s British parliamentary election, newly minted Conservative MP Miriam Cates has come under fire for her ownership of the Foodbank app.

Designed to let people find their local food bank, and for those food banks to tell the local community directly what they need, use of the app isn’t free and each food bank that uses it is charged £180 to register.

Appalled that someone would profit from the food poverty crisis, one that’s being caused by the austerity policies of Cates own party, tech-savvy and social justice-minded Twitter users have come together to start building a replacement service—one which will be free to use for both food banks and their users.

The project was kicked off by Dave Williams, a DevOps engineer who made headlines once before for their part in organizing an anti-homophobia kiss in. The app is still in the early organizational stages.

Speaking to the Daily Dot, Williams said that credit for the idea itself actually belongs to their friend, Twitter user @lexxiakalexxi, who responded to their initial despair-filled tweet about Cates’ app with a call for someone to make a free version.

 

“It was like a light switching on,” they said. “I’d been so busy feeling hopeless that I hadn’t spotted an opportunity for some hope going HELLO YES I AM HERE LET US PARTY.”

Williams tweeted out a request for volunteers to help build their new app before logging off for the night. Williams was only expecting to get around “four responses if I was lucky,” so they were astonished then when they woke up the next day to discover eighty people had already signed up, and that the numbers continued to climb as the day went on.

Along with individual volunteers ranging from farmworkers to physicists, Oldham Food Bank got in touch and offered to act as a pilot subject for them.

Realizing that the potential scope of this project went beyond the replacement food bank app, Williams began creating a structure to enable all the volunteers to link up and work together, starting with features for food banks and their users but with plans to expand beyond that to tackle other Tory policies.

Calling it the Tory Survival Toolkit, Williams explained that “I decided to call the project a ‘toolkit’ because my agenda continues afterward. There are some things that are simple to implement, easy wins—like offline documentation and guidance, and lists of bodies that people can contact to help with certain situations.”

Intending it to function as a co-operative organization rather than a hierarchical one, the toolkit is designed to be largely self-managing, allowing people to seek out mutual aid and put in what they can when they can. The large pool of volunteers and their ability to put out requests and respond in real-time should enable quick, reactive, and effective responses while retaining flexibility.

Williams was also quick to point out that food banks need money and labor more than anything else, and that those who can do that should put their energies there first. For many of those who are disabled, time-poor or otherwise unable to do more physical volunteer work, however, a position Williams finds themselves in, the Tory Survival Toolkit seems like an exciting chance to make a difference.

 

While Williams’ project seems to be the most prominent of the responses to the revelations about Cates’ app, several other developers are also working on similar projects in both the U.K. and Ireland. Rather than working at cross purposes, many have already started reaching out to each other, Williams included, discussing how best to share research and data and otherwise work together to provide the optimal outcome for those they’re aiming to serve.

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Siobhan Ball

Siobhan Ball

Siobhan Ball is a historian, archivist, and journalist. She also writes for Autostraddle and bi.org