“Everything happened in the first month” of the pandemic, says Nikkel. She more than doubled the FoodRescue.ca team to 14 as the crisis worsened, and created a national task force to connect industry leaders, nonprofits, indigenous communities and others to figure out where the surplus and the needs were and match them through the FoodRescue.ca platform.

“The whole country got behind this thing,” Nikkel says. “This was the one place where people across Canada could access food, groceries and money, and that had a huge impact on how Canada managed COVID-19. And that’s because of RedBit.”

Five people sort food
RedBit developers sorted food for Second Harvest last year to see what challenges were being faced before working on the organization’s tech platform. That helped them pivot quickly when the pandemic hit.

The software consultancy was able to respond so quickly in part because it already had experience developing with the right tools in Azure. The data collected by FoodRescue.ca goes into a model-driven app in Power Platform, Dynamics 365 is used to manage the system, and everything is based on Azure, Arteaga says.

But just as important was the company’s process of connecting with its customers and learning the specifics of their needs, he says. RedBit developers had spent time working with Second Harvest employees, donors and agencies, including sorting food and going on truck runs with delivery workers to see what challenges were being faced at every level.

With the new platform, a food donor — a restaurant, grocery store or any other food business — can create a donation listing, and then an agency — a food bank or any nonprofit that works with people in need — can claim it. Listings on a recent day included 5,600 pounds of crackers, cereals, meat, fish and nuts; 13,800 pounds of perishable prepared food; 3,700 pounds of baked goods and snacks such as cashews, cookies, noodles, candy, oatmeal and bottled water; and 2,500 pounds of bread.

hand holding phone
RedBit created a mobile app so Second Harvest could offer easier access to food donors and nonprofit workers suddenly having to work remotely.

“And that’s just today,” Arteaga says. “All this food would have gone into landfills if it weren’t donated, which is crazy. We saw tomato sauce and baby formula that was going to the trash because of packaging imperfections, if it wasn’t rescued.”

Arteaga, who has been involved in technology since he was 14 years old, started RedBit in 2003 and began expanding it in earnest about five years ago, with 21 fulltime employees and seven active projects now.

With Second Harvest, “you’re saving people and saving the earth,” Arteaga says. “We’re finally getting to use technology to make a difference in the world. We build systems all the time — saving money, making money, automating processes — but this brings fulfillment, when you’re in the warehouse and see the amount of waste there is and know there doesn’t need to be that waste. So that’s why I’m fully invested in this as a human being to use technology for good.”

Nikkel says RedBit’s team worked so closely with hers that she considers them part of her organization.

“I almost don’t want to know about the tech,” she says, “and that’s what’s great — I don’t have to worry about it. I just know it will work so we can keep making sure people can eat and the food’s not going to the landfill.”

Lead image: A Second Harvest driver delivers food to a charity in Toronto.
Photos of Lori Nikkel, the RedBit team, the mobile app and food donation efforts were provided by RedBit and Second Harvest.

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