Tech's philanthropy gap ¶
By: data_entry_1 on Oct. 6, 2016, 5:53 p.m.
Dan Michelson has two hopes for the Greater Chicago Food Depository's inaugural Hackathon to End Hunger.
One: That the expected 100 participants will, during 12 hours of hacking on Sept. 24, find a solution that helps erase childhood hunger. Before opening their laptops, participants will receive data on child food insecurity, community-level census data, historical numbers on summer and after-school meal participation rates and a briefing on childhood hunger. The big statistic: One in five children in Cook County is food-insecure, meaning without reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food.
Two: That the hackathon will rally Chicago's tech community around a cause outside its four walls. “The Chicago tech community to this point hasn't come together as a single community around anything,” says Michelson, CEO of Strata Decision Technology in Chicago and co-chair of the hackathon steering committee.
In 2015, 150 Strata employees spent a half-day volunteering at the food depository, which in the past year distributed 70 million pounds of food to people in Cook County. Michelson walked away impressed. “The way they've scaled it is stunning,” he says. “We thought, 'Wow, that's a good mission.' ”
That year, Kate Maehr, CEO of the food depository, asked several executives including Michelson to form a committee to engage the tech sector. Michelson volunteered to co-chair; he formed a smaller group, which dreamed up the hackathon. David Snyder, publisher of Crain's Chicago Business, was involved in initial discussions, and Crain's is a sponsor of the event.
The tech industry here is “a group of individuals who are creative problem solvers,” Maehr says. Hunger “is first and foremost a problem to be solved and with creative solutions.”
The food depository has successfully rallied other industries to the cause: The Chicago Commercial Real Estate Awards dinner, established in 1989, has raised more than $16.5 million and become the food depository's largest annual fundraising event.