A duo of do-gooders put their computer skills to good use amid the coronavirus outbreak, creating a searchable resource with up-to-date information on the city’s food banks and testing sites based on one’s zip code for their fellow city dwellers.
“It’s a search engine that shows the closest free testing, free food banks near you,” said 23-year-old Timur Seckin, one of the founders of Covidaid.nyc.
Seckin and his colleague at the nonprofit EndoFound, Chanel Schroff, were surprised to find a disturbing lack of accurate information available on testing sites and food banks — which many Brooklynites are relying on amid a sharp rise in unemployment.
“There is an online database that has the food banks, there are at least like three of them but they don’t have the update hours,” Seckin said. “Their hours were all totally wrong, it was surprising.”
Determined to fill the void and help their community through the crisis, the ambitious duo, who met as classmates while studying at Berkeley, began aggregating the missing information — placing hundreds of calls and scouring the internet and social media to locate services.
“We called nearly 250 food banks across all five boroughs,” Schroff said. “And sometimes we would have to call multiple times because they would be closed, we didn’t know the hours. That was probably the most time-consuming aspect at the beginning.”
Since the site launched on March 22, Schroff and Seckin have listed hours, contact information, and service offerings for more than 250 food pantries in New York City — helping people find the closest facilities, in an effort to limit travel.
In order to ensure the information is up to date, the pair painstakingly calls up each listing every Friday to find out about any potential scheduling changes.
“Most of the food banks we are finding are changing their hours of operation almost on a weekly basis,” Schroff said. “Some are even closed. So we really have to call them.”
Unsatisfied with their remarkable progress, however, the pair plans to compile a list of places that are donating personal protective equipment, as well as facilities where previously-infected people can donate plasma.