Andrew Glantz didn’t set out to found a startup. As a kid, the now 24-year-old Washington University graduate describes himself as having an entrepreneurial spirit, but he considered startups risky. Sitting in a local restaurant one day at the age of 19, though, that all changed when he and a friend started discussing an idea for an app that would serve as both a platform to promote and recommend local restaurants, and a way to give back to the food insecure in our community.
Today the seed of that idea has transformed into GiftAMeal, an app that allows users to upload photos of dishes from local restaurants, which serves as promotion for the eatery, and then, in turn, GiftAMeal will donate one meal to someone in need. Over the life of the business, the app has donated 410,000 meals to the food insecure through its partner food banks in three cities: Lakeview Pantry in Chicago, Forgotten Harvest in Detroit and Operation Food Search in St. Louis, which has received some 200,000 of those meals in the metro area.
“From the restaurant perspective, I was building this as a way to help differentiate them and really build that connection with their customers,” Glantz says. “And from the user side, I saw that a lot of people wanted to help support businesses that were giving back to the community, but they might not know how. They want to continually give back and support places that are doing something positive, and so with GiftAMeal, I was looking to create a really easy way for customers to do something to make a difference in their community.”
Adapting to Social Distancing
Recently, like so many small business owners, Glantz has had to temporarily pivot GiftAMeal’s model in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. To comply with social distancing orders, app users can now upload photos of curbside pickup meals or delivery orders from local restaurants off-site, a function not previously available on the app. GiftAMeal, which currently lists some 200 local restaurants as partners, is also encouraging users to purchase electronic gift cards in cases where restaurants have temporarily closed. A photo of a gift card uploaded to the app will be treated like a food photo right now and a meal will be donated in kind.
“For the restaurants, a lot of them hadn’t really done takeout or delivery before or it was just a small part of their business,” Glantz says. “These restaurants have really had to pivot to become solely takeout or delivery focused, or build curbside programs. So when they’re spending all this time, energy and money building this up, we want to make sure that they make the most of it.”
So far Glantz has been heartened by the response from users in recent weeks. He says he now starts every morning by checking the backend of the app to see which restaurants users are visiting and how they’re reacting to the crisis.
“I see that a user went to J. Smug’s Gastropit last night and said, ‘Excited to be finally trying these guys with the hashtag #GreatAmericanTakeout’, or somebody took a picture of Urban Chestnut curbside pickup with the hashtag #SupportLocal,” Glantz says. “And then I see that there is somebody who ordered an electronic gift card from The Wood Shack Soulard and mentioned that they were able to help a local restaurant and give a meal to Operation Food Search through GiftAMeal. They were able to spread the love.”
Helping the Hospitality Industry
Glantz has also seen restaurant and bar owners step up during this time to help support their employees who have been hit hard by COVID-19. As small businesses struggle to stay open and continue providing food service, many hospitality employees have been laid off — yet Glantz has also seen restaurant owners rallying to use the app to help those same staffers.
“Mayor Lyda Krewson mentioned that there are 88,000 employees in hospitality in St. Louis; it’s a lot of people. If we can try to do our best to support these local restaurants, they’re going to be able to support their employees,” Glantz says. “A lot of restaurants are doing programs to help support their employees further, like with gift card purchases: For instance, Three Kings Public House has a program where when you’re buying from Three Kings, a percentage of the sale is going to a fund to help pay laid off employees during this time.”
Matching Donations to Operation Food Search
During this uncertain time, though, the underlying mission of GiftAMeal has made an especially meaningful impact in the St. Louis community. Glantz says that prior to the COVID-19 crisis, there were already more than 172,000 children in the St. Louis area who faced daily food insecurity, and given school closures, that number has likely risen. The GiftAMeal model already ensured that for every user who uploaded a photo of a meal that one meal was donated to someone in need. Last month, the small startup has upped the ante with a matching donation of up to $5,000 for Operation Food Search.
In just 10 days, the donation campaign raised $20,000, three times its initial goal and enough money to provide Operation Food Search with 8,000 emergency family meal kits, according to a recent release.
“GiftAMeal has always been a dependable source of donations with their ongoing program, but the results of the matching gift campaign are amazing,” Kristen Wild, executive director of Operation Food Search, said in the release. “Their response comes at a time when it matters most urgently, and we’re so grateful to GiftAMeal, their users and everyone involved with their program.”
– Andrew Glantz
For Glantz, the rapid response from the community is further proof that GiftAMeal’s mission to aid those most in need has resonated deeply with St. Louisans. Not only do folks in town want to help the most vulnerable among us in everyday life, but in times of crisis, they band together to help one another.
“Even in a tough time like this, people are really coming together to help their neighbors,” Glantz says. I’ve had restaurants call me about donating extra food, wanting to know how they could get set up with our food bank partner or local pantries — everywhere I look, people are wanting to help. This town is amazing.”
Join the Story
- Download the GiftAMeal app from the App Store.
- Use #STLMade4Good and join the #STLMade4Good Facebook group to share acts of kindness.