Our Introduction: Past and Future

PantryTrak: An Idea is born

In 2009, Mark Mollenkopf volunteered at a food pantry with Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio (LSSCO).  That first day he rode three hours in a box truck down to Appalachian Ohio.  The hungry neighbors waiting in line cheered as the truck pulled into the church parking lot.

As the pallets of food and shopping carts came out of the truck, so did the bic pens and binders of paperwork.  At the time, Mid-Ohio Foodbank and its agency partners only recorded the basic information needed for The Emergency Feeding Assistance Program (TEFAP): head of household name, address and the number of senior, adult and children household members.  Mark knew there was more to learn about our hungry neighbors.  That night he went home and wrote “PantryTrak” in his journal.

Through the next year, Mark racked up over 500 volunteer hours cris-crossing rural Ohio in that box truck helping to feed hungry neighbors. He combined his previous professional technical expertise with his passion for feeding others to create a new way of collecting data. In 2011, the food pantry software known as PantryTrak recorded data about its first household. This data collection went beyond the basic TEFAP required information.  Data is recorded about each member of the household: names, birthdates, and more.  Immediately two noteworthy goals were realized: there was a lowering of duplicates and monthly reporting was achievable through the click of a button.  For the first time agency partners were able to report a truly unduplicated count of services provided to households.  As time went on the tool became even more sophisticated, allowing agencies to understand and report on their impact while saving them time.

An Idea is supported

In 2012, Mid-Ohio Foodbank (MOF), now known as Mid-Ohio Food Collective (Mid-Ohio Food Collective) hired Mark to open their onsite food pantry.  The Food Collective opened their onsite pantry within weeks of his hiring and made an unparalleled commitment to the work of PantryTrak.  They began a network-wide implementation of this food pantry software in all of their partner agencies.  Additionally, MOFC worked closely with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) to gain approval for electronic tracking of signatures.  By December 2012, PantryTrak could completely process a TEFAP service visit electronically.

This allows agencies to maintain electronic records for services.  No longer were bic pens and binders a part of the feeding story.  Through the leadership of Mid-Ohio Food Collective and the support of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, the statewide network of foodbanks changed the conversation around hunger by changing the method of data collection across the entire feeding network. MOFC maintains a strong commitment to data collection knowing that by moving beyond counting the line, we begin to understand the overall impact of hunger in our communities.

FreshTrak: An Idea Grows

By analyzing data collected through PantryTrak as well as the day-to-day experiences of our partner agencies, we have changed our own understanding of hunger.  As Mid-Ohio Food Collective CEO, Matt Habash frequently says, “we are not going to food bank our way out of hunger.” PantryTrak is distinct food pantry software because every new idea comes from conversations with agency partners and food banks. PantryTrak is the realization of their best thinking.

PantryTrak began a new chapter in 2019 with the rebranding as FreshTrak. This new chapter maintains the commitment to being a strong food pantry software and additionally leans on the Food Is Health work happening at Mid-Ohio Food Collective, which includes partnerships with both primary care physicians and agency partners.  The Mid-Ohio Farmacy maintains a closed loop referral system and data sharing agreement that allows all partners to better understand the impact of access to healthy food on patient health outcomes.

FreshTrak includes collecting data about the extensive work being done through wrap around services, such as availability of health services or housing assistance, at our partner agencies and Mid-Ohio Markets.  Additionally this new chapter includes social determinants of health in its analyses. According to Healthy People 2020, “Social determinants of health are conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.”  FreshTrak is a commitment to the holistic approach of serving the whole person not just the hungry person.

Phase one of the FreshTrak rebranding was to be a customer-facing portal to allow hungry neighbors to interact with the system in an entirely new way.  In early 2020, for the first time hungry neighbors are able to pre-register themselves for services via the launch of FreshTrak: Public. The onset of Covid-19 and the growth of large scale, drive through distributions prioritized this work to ensure a safe distribution of food and necessities for hungry neighbors, volunteers and staff.  This immediately led to the safe transmission of high quality data in a time when many were forced to abandon the commitment to data due to the crisis.

An idea continues

The future of FreshTrak is bright. Our work prioritizes two things: putting the person in need first and gathering accurate data.  These new feature sets and audiences achieve those priorities.

  • FreshTrak: Public – a web-based application for hungry neighbors to access accurate resources
  • FreshTrak: Service – the upgraded pantry software for agencies to collect and accurately serve their customers
  • FreshTrak: Foodbank – a special set of tools specifically designed for food bankers to help them better understand their networks and allocate resources
  • FreshTrak: Focus– the culmination of all data collected through the software, analyzed to help drive resources and public policy

When a customer knows where and when they can access resources, the system can work for them. When we know who is visiting, how many people are visiting and what items they are selecting, we can better supply pantries. Analysis of that all of that collected data can help us meet the need now, and prepare for whatever comes next.  These four systems work in conjunction with one another to achieve the best service FreshTrak can provide to all stakeholders: our hungry neighbors, our agency partners, our food banks and the public. We know that the work of feeding our neighbors is not easy and the pandemic and economic fallout have caused unprecedented levels of need.  Software and data are only one part of the work, but utilizing high quality data collection gets food to hungry neighbors more quickly and easily.