Developer Spotlight: Bryan Moran

May 29, 2020
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Computers and technology captivated Bryan Moran at a young age. He built his first computer in 6th grade, in part, because it’s helped him with his dysgraphia (he couldn’t read his handwriting making homework and in-class tasks challenging). But his interest became more than just a hobby even though he balks a bit if you try to call him a developer.

“I love, love, love technology, and especially the open-source community, but I’m a terrible coder,” jokes Bryan.

Glimpsing into Bryan’s home office setup during our interview would suggest otherwise. Three enormous monitors nearly span the length of his desk and, while he may not be a coder by the strictest definition, he could certainly play on TV.  

IRL, Bryan is the Director of Developer Operations at City Harvest, an organization that rescues millions of pounds of soon-to-be food waste and redistributes it to food pantries around New York City. City Harvest uses Plentiful, a software reservation technology (that Bryan led) for food pantries that allow users to reserve pick up times, and check service hours to ensure that their food pantry pickup is as efficient as possible.

That means no more walking miles in a snowstorm only to realize that a certain food pantry has adjusted hours, and actually isn’t open. It also means less waiting and gathering time in the time of COVID-19.

Forging a place to bridge nonprofit and technology

Bryan’s road to his current job didn’t follow a traditional trajectory. He studied criminal justice in college and found himself working a midnight shift as a security guard during the 2008 recession in Detroit.

He decided to sell all of his belongings and move to New York to work as a program manager at a local soup kitchen. He wasn’t able to leverage his technology passion at the time, but he was able to help improve the systemic issue of food scarcity in New York City.

Bryan then went on to receive a Masters in Nonprofit Management. He had initially started down the road to becoming a social worker but soon realized his passion was solving systemic community issues instead of individual ones. Bryan joined Plentiful before it officially became City Harvest to build the text messaging system for the local pantries.

The problem: Food scarcity served with extra paperwork

Food pantries have been around New York City for hundreds of years. But they all historically kept paper records of registrants and other key data to ensure the program worked efficiently. And none of the pantries were able to “speak to each other.”

Bryan needed to come up with a simple and accessible solution. Texting seemed to be the answer. City Harvest uses the Plentiful technology to provide SMS and text messages so that individual food pantries can communicate with individuals and families who experience food scarcity. Users simply text the word FOOD to the pantry and they are directed to their closet food pantry and given a time for pick up.

The original technology used long-code phone numbers, which was fine, but really had no way to scale because it required constantly purchasing additional phone numbers. There was also an Android app, but many users of food banks and pantries don’t want to, nor can they, download apps on their phones.

Bryan found that using messaging services such as Twilio SMS that leverage shortcodes allowed the program to scale as users grow, and additional pantries joined the program. To date, 253 of the 600 New York food pantries participate in the City Harvest program.

Scaling during COVID

The City Harvest program has experienced spikes in use after certain events, such as the recent government shutdown that blocked people from refilling their food stamps. But the COVID pandemic has really brought food scarcity, and the need for digital communication, to the forefront.

While the number of those suffering food scarcity has sky-rocketed 76% above normal levels, 35% of food banks have closed down. When City Harvest surveyed users, 90% have not visited a pantry in the last 6 months signaling the dramatic increase in new users for the program.  

Waiting in any sort of line is especially risky during a pandemic, so it was critical that users would know exactly where and when to show up so they can safely receive their food. City Harvest has reduced these wait times and improved overall efficiency. Read more about how City Harvest scaled during COVID.  

What’s next for Bryan?

The better question is, what isn’t next. He and his 3-person team are looking to build a progressive web app using React components to serve current users in NYC. Incorporating other forms of communications, like Twilio SendGrid Email, into the fold are also on the horizon.

Bryan also wants to bring the same technology and digital communications to food pantries and other non-profits across the country. He’s already actively consulting other food pantries in places like San Francisco with plans to roll out similar services in their communities.

Bryan says the City Harvest use-case can be easily replicated for the traditionally underserved areas in nonprofit. Although software can cause some sticker shock for non-profits, Bryan argues that software can be the best alley and resource for non-profits.

“Nonprofits work on shoe-string budgets and need to be as efficient as possible in order to be effective and serve users,” says Bryan. “Building software always takes longer and costs more than you originally think it will, so our option can be a great choice for those facing similar challenges.”

We can’t wait to see Bryan continue his mission to use software and digital communication to elevate non-profits around the country. Read more about City Harvest and how they leverage SMS to efficiently communicate with their users.