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New app aids LI food charity's efforts

Catherine Crawford, of Massapequa Park, far right, is

Catherine Crawford, of Massapequa Park, far right, is a volunteer with Food Not Bombs. Here, she helps with food distribution at the food share in Hempstead on March 31, 2013. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Dozens of Food Not Bombs volunteers spread out across Long Island this week to collect thousands of pounds of groceries from supermarkets, delis and health food stores -- food that was destined for Dumpsters.

Instead of writing down what they receive, volunteers now log materials into their cellphones, thanks to an app recently created by the Long Island chapter of Food Not Bombs. The nonprofit distributes food weekly in Huntington, Farmingville, Hempstead, Coram, Wyandanch and Brooklyn.

"This way, by the time we start to set up at the food share, we know most of everything that we're about to share," said co-founder Jon Stepanian, 28, of Huntington. His group gives out food, clothes and other items in Hempstead on Sundays.

Blending new technology with its work will allow the nonprofit to give out more nutritious food in an equitable manner Stepanian said. And it comes as his group is seeing more people seeking food -- not only as a supplement to purchased groceries, but as their only source of nutrition.

"We don't want to just be providing bread, carbs and sugar to people . . . We want to make sure what we are providing is healthy and nutritious," Stepanian said.

Long Island Cares executive director Paule Pachter said his organization maintains an electronic, computerized database of its food inventory, including the nutritional contents and values of the food it provides to its 580 member agencies. Long Island Cares also runs one of the two regional food banks.

But Pachter said LIC doesn't have a cellphone app, and called the Food Not Bombs initiative "cutting edge."

"I would like to hear more about the process and their progress in utilizing it," he said. "I think it's important for any organization providing food to feed the hungry to have systems in place to measure quality as well as accountability."

On Sunday, the Food Not Bombs volunteers set up in Hempstead at West Columbia Street and Station Plaza. Before they had put the food and items on the tables, volunteers knew what they had because of the app, Stepanian said.

By the end of the day, each volunteer had data that showed the nutritional breakdown of the majority of the foods given out, including an average of the amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber and calories each person received.

Stepanian said about 400 people turned out Sunday and volunteers gave out about 10,500 pounds of materials -- about 9,800 pounds of groceries, 540 pounds of clothing and 250 pounds of other items such as toiletries.

Stepanian said nutrition and distributing healthy foods are important to the organization because its food shares are in "food deserts" -- areas with little or no access to large grocery stores that offer affordable foods.

"The reality is that they have access to fast-food restaurants . . . they have access to minimal amounts of produce," he said.

He said the app also provides language translations for some materials they share and vegan recipe suggestions for foods given out. And Stepanian said he isn't merely focusing on helping feed and clothe Long Islanders.

"Our goal is to expand our application into a social networking tool that anyone across the country can use," he said.

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