St. Louis-based mobile app founded by WU alum works to keep local food banks and restaurants afloat during COVID-19 pandemic

Noah Slaughter | Staff Reporter

Washington University 2017 graduate Andrew Glantz is using his own start-up to support local restaurants and food banks in the wake of COVID-19.

Courtesy of Andrew Glantz

GiftAMeal is a mobile app that operates in St. Louis, Detroit and Chicago. After users download the free app and take photos of food at any of the 200 participating restaurants, GiftAMeal donates a meal to a local food bank. To date, GiftAMeal has donated over 427,000 meals.

The start-up announced March 18 that it would introduce five changes to address the needs of restaurants and food banks during the pandemic, including allowing users to send in photos of take-out, delivery and gift cards, as well as starting a matching campaign for direct donations to food banks such as Operation Food Search in St. Louis.

“We saw that there was going to be a huge, huge need for [Operation Food Search’s] services in order to feed children and the elderly in need during this crisis,” Glantz said.

Normally, users must physically be in a participating restaurant to send a photo to GiftAMeal, which uses location services to verify the user’s position. That specification has been disabled, so users can now support food banks by taking images of gift cards and take-out or delivery food, which previously did not count.

The matching campaign gives users the ability to donate directly to Operation Food Search outside the normal uses of the app, with GiftAMeal matching up to $5,000. At the time of publication, St. Louis users have donated more than $15,000, for a total of around $20,000 donated.

“Socially-conscious businesses like this are changing the way people approach giving,” Kristen Wild, executive director of Operation Food Search, said. “The generous support of GiftAMeal is making an impact in our community every day.”

To participate on the app, restaurants normally pay a monthly subscription fee, ranging between $49 and $149, which has been waived for restaurants that cannot currently pay.

Glantz said GiftAMeal should be able to continue waiving the subscription fee for several months, or as long as it takes until restaurants can reopen and resume normal operations. According to Glantz, most participating restaurants have continued to pay regardless, and GiftAMeal is also looking into a government stimulus package to be able to continue operating in the coming months.

“It was the right thing to do, and we wanted to get in front of this to be able to give the restaurants as much support and cash flow on hand to stay open and pay staff and everything during this crisis,” Glantz said.

GiftAMeal has also helped coordinate direct donations of food from restaurants to food banks. With orders down at restaurants, many were left with surplus food. They can now contact GiftAMeal, which will help restaurants in St. Louis connect with Operation Food Search.

They will also work to support restaurants through increased publicity on their website and their social media accounts, letting people know that many restaurants are still open, taking orders for carry-out and delivery and selling gift cards.

Glantz said these changes will stay in place indefinitely. While app usage has decreased, he said that he is pleased that users have taken part in the app’s changes.

“Our app usage is definitely down since COVID-19 happened, due to just fewer people dining out and everything, so I think that’s definitely been a challenge, but it’s been great to see how users have adapted,” Glantz said. “Where previously zero people would have been able to use the app outside of a restaurant from home, now people can, or they need to, in order to use the app.”

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