‘Find My Pasta’: the app beating COVID-19 shortages

On the 25th March 2020, St Peter’s College’s Jack Solomon and Merton College’s Julia Willemyns’s ‘Find My Pasta’ app was launched for all intents and purposes in order to help quell consumer frenzy and direct the public to available commodities. With Boris Johnson limiting us to just one walk a day from the 23rd March into the foreseeable future, it’s a waste to spend it staring at empty shelves, and important to ensure someone more vulnerable than you isn’t doing the same. ‘Find My Pasta’ monitors supermarket shortages in light of panic buying caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, with hopes to alleviate some of stockpiling’s negative impacts through showing live crowdsourced information worldwide. For this free app to work, you report on what is and isn’t available in your local supermarkets when you’re doing your shopping, providing an immediate update for others also using the app.

Fundamentally designed with community responsibility in mind, the app simultaneously supports the resource-stretched supermarkets and all people needing to access supplies; for some, this hunt is easier than for others. Panic buying has equated to shelves across the UK lacking many of the products they once held. Online delivery services are fully booked, stores are cleared out in minutes by swarms of customers, and it’s all left most people spending more time looking for, rather than eating, pasta. That’s not to say that the supermarkets have sat idly: Tesco and Asda have encouraged those who can to use Click & Collect; Sainsbury’s has established priority slots for the vulnerable; Morrisons has created 3500 new jobs to expand delivery service and employ those left recently redundant, and these are only select examples.

“One of the most wonderful things we have seen come out of this pandemic is communities working together to help each other.”

Nevertheless, most people have been left without any option but to frequently head to the stores themselves – something particularly difficult for the elderly, vulnerable and those who are still working to keep the country operating; and furthermore, for everyone who should be taking the sensible precautionary measure of self-isolating. As Julia Willemyns quotes: “We came up with the idea when we were going to various shops to find pasta but couldn’t find any because of the panic buying happening in Oxford. It dawned on us that we may have the privilege to hunt down products like pasta, but for people who were at risk this isn’t a possibility. If you’re vulnerable to the disease you cannot afford to go to three or four shops to try to find a product. ‘Find My Pasta’ collects crowdsourced information on supermarket stock to help at-risk individuals reduce their contact with others”.

As the UK brings in strict curbs on life to fight the virus, the current lockdown enforces the previously dismissed plea for social distancing. Aiding the combatting of general spread, Julia Willemyns reiterates how “lots of us are staying home bar going to the shops to buy essentials. If we limit this trip to one or two shops, we can also limit the spread of COVID-19. For the app to work worldwide, however, we need people to report on what is or isn’t in their local shop. One of the most wonderful things we have seen come out of this pandemic is communities working together to help each other. By creating ‘Find My Pasta’ we wanted to facilitate these communities in their fight. We hope to make a small difference.”

‘Find My Pasta’ monitors supermarket shortages in light of panic buying caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Though this should make more than just a “small difference”: the information yielded could quite literally save lives. And beyond this, the good news (and it should be reinforced) is that there is no shortage of food. The issue, rather, is how quickly we can restock the shelves. Whilst there are more critical concerns, this is nevertheless a persistent problem affecting people all across the UK. Supermarkets have responded to try to mitigate this, yet it’s clear that information – accurate information – is instrumental to take this success further. What we need is to know which shelves are lacking which foods, and which continue to be stocked: ‘Find My Pasta’ provides this service, and hopefully will begin to allow everyone access to their fair share of commodities.

Looking to the future, the usefulness of this app isn’t limited to the context of COVID-19. As Jack Solomon explains, the technology behind the ‘Find My Pasta’ app could be replicated in areas where there are frequent shortages of supplies (such as conflict areas or remote regions) and “that might be something we look into once the coronavirus pandemic is under control”.

The information yielded could quite literally save lives.

Turns out Jack and Julia can do far more than just hacking…

(‘Find My Pasta’ is avaliable on iOS and soon Android)

Image Credit: Jack Solomon