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LibreFoodPantry – a community building FOSS for food pantries (librefoodpantry.org)
76 points by jka 66 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 25 comments

A pet peeve about projects like this is that the entire website talks about the software project, from a developer's perspective, and it's basically impossible to find out what the software does from a user's perspective.

Ok, so you make software for food pantries. What does that software do for me, as a food pantry, and why should I use it? How do I get started with it? How do I use it? How do my employees or volunteers use it?

This website answers none of those questions. As a food pantry, I can't make any sense of this website.

This is a common problem, and I saw it during a brief stint considering involvement in Code For America; too much emphasis on technology and code, not enough emphasis on the outcome/objective.

Most of these nonprofits would be better served by low-code commercial solutions. That might sound bad, because you have to pay, but you also have to pay to host FOSS software, so not so much of a difference. The pantry probably needs email, so they probably have access to O365 or Gmail already. For more complex things, AirTable/SharePoint Lists is often going to be enough, if sub-optimal.

Glancing at the code, this appears to be mostly about apps for ordering and processing orders: https://gitlab.com/LibreFoodPantry/client-solutions

This can usually be achieved pretty well (80% of the need for 20% of the effort) with a Google Form + Sheets + light automation.

Ultimately these are information management problems, so it is best to approach from an IT perspective rather than a CS/SE perspective.

The solution, imho, is to run the software for the food pantries. You’re creating a non profit platform for the entities you’ve decided to serve. YouTube tutorials, one click onboarding, the UX and customer experience is where all the hard work is at.

If you’ve succeeded, food pantries are beating down your door to use the software and you can objectively demonstrate how it’s improved the delivery of services to food bank customers. Your service is also top of mind when someone considers spinning up a food bank or organization with a similar use case.

“Uber or Deliveroo for food pantries” as the SV pitch deck would be written.

I had a similar reaction to this after looking at their website and documentation: there is no way that this will be broadly usable by their target audience. I volunteered regularly at a soup kitchen for a few years, and do you know who the core staff were? Women in their 60s and 70s. Inventory and ordering were tracked with hand-written notes in a binder that the staff leader kept in her car. Are those people going to install and set up open-source software on GitHub to make their inventory management easier? sound of hysterical laughing

Even the mostly-free solution using GSuite or whatever is past the technical interest and abilities of most of the staff. And honestly the low-tech solutions they already used worked just fine for them.

I will credit the commenter downstream who said that the project seems to have close relationships with a few large food pantries, that might have the necessary staff and volume to make such a system worthwhile. But I still can't shake the feeling that this is the product of a programmer who wants to do good, but has created a technical system that doesn't actually meet the needs of the people he's trying to help.

You're right, it's almost a satire site. I learn about the code of conduct, licensing and team structure, but have no idea what they actually do

I eventually found a repo that had an authentication project, and presumably I would have found code in one of the other folders, but my curiosity was spent.

The only thing I learnt is that 'pantry' means something different in America.. what we call a 'food bank' (AIUI, difference from 'soup kitchen' being handing out ingredients rather than hot meals) by the sounds of it?

In the UK a pantry is a small room/large cupboard used for cool but not refrigerated storage; so I thought this was going to be a sort of 'asset management system' somehow specifically good for shelf-stable foodstuffs.

They're called both in the U.S. I think "food bank" is at least as common. E.g. SF-Marin food bank (https://www.sfmfoodbank.org/) and the nearby Berkeley Food Pantry (https://www.berkeleyfoodpantry.org/).

The word "pantry" alone has the same meaning in both countries.

It probably makes sense to change terms if one is more universal.

I grew up in the U.S., spent ~7 years volunteering at a soup kitchen (not an actual soup kitchen, but a program which cooked and served meals to the public), and I had no idea what "food pantry" was. The term I'm familiar with is "food bank". Maybe it's regional? I was living in Memphis, TN

We use 'food bank' and 'soup kitchen' here in the US like you do.

I've heard the term 'food pantry' only recently (within the past 3-5 years) and it means the same as 'food bank' (as far as I can tell).

As a sibling post mentions "pantry" has always meant "special room in the house where the shelf-stable food is stored" here in the US. Most middle-class houses don't have one, and those that do the "room" is really more of a closet big enough to stand in than a proper room.

n=1, but my (American) family's always called their food storage room a "pantry".

> A pet peeve about projects like this is that the entire website talks about the software project, from a developer's perspective, and it's basically impossible to find out what the software does from a user's perspective

No, it talks about the developer community from the perspective of target members, because that is what it is the website for.

The projects, of which there are multiple, aren’t even mentioned, and it doesn’t appear that any of them are currently targeted on public users; on the projects page they have reference to two areas, a “Client Solutions Group” that is engaged directly with three food pantries for developing custom software for each pantry's needs, a “Common Services Group” building shared components to support those efforts, and a reference to “Other Projects” supporting the community website and infrastructure.

So, yeah, the community page isn’t an info page for prospective users since they aren’t trying to solicit users or making software that isn’t targeting people other than those they are directly engaged with for custom work.

Yes! I am a developer and someone working with our local food pantry and even so I can barely make heads or tails of it and it seems to forget the point of the effort early on in the best docs I could find (https://librefoodpantry.org/docs/shop-setup) because it wanders off into how to set up an issue board, etc right away.

I would humbly suggest the best next thing to work on would be someone with (copy)writing experience and ideally they would talk to end users about how the software has helped them. Too often we get consumed with the idea of software for software's sake.

Yes, perhaps that explains why:

> As of yet, no software has been deployed for a client.

It looks like at present, there's codebases here: https://gitlab.com/LibreFoodPantry/client-solutions for three separate food pantries.

Presumably, the goal of this project is to build a common platform that eventually replaces the individual one-off solutions that exist today for these three pantries, and are useful for more food pantries in the future.

> As a food pantry, I can't make any sense of this website.

From the website, they haven't released any actual software yet, which is even worse: they made a website before delivering anything at all.

This isn't a pet peeve, this is a frequent issue with FOSS software. Free in theory, useless in practice, because they focus too much on technology and not enough on the user of the system.

I would go so far as to say this issue is not limited to FOSS software, but the tech world in general. There is a gaping chasm between the pie-in-the-sky sci-fi dreams being promised for the world of tomorrow by the techbros of today and the way work actually gets done in 99% of the world. Throwing computers at the problem won't help anything.

No offense meant to people who are working on solutions to the world's problems, but the optics here are those of a problem that doesn't necessarily benefit from the added technical overhead of the solution. If I'm understanding the linked website correctly it's not a single software package but an organization for groups developing their own software independently for specific food pantries. Maybe there's some kind of intention to collaborate on these projects or combine work toward general-purpose pantry management software, but it's not clear from the site.

You're probably about to be massively downvoted.

A lot of people around here have difficulty with the idea of communicating what they're doing, and marketing of any level.

(Not to pick on this project but) I think if potential volunteer developers first immersed themselves in the issue by volunteering directly for 10-20 hours at a local food bank, they would have a much easier time starting at a working solution (giving people food) and then fleshing out the existing/better solution using tech going forward. Another aspect could be donating some money and then following that money through the food bank system to understand how it works. That way the direct efforts would help and also make implementing a better solution much more efficient.

Never mind what the software does from a user perspective, what definition does this project use for 'pantry'? Wikipedia agrees with my understanding of the term and tells me it's a room for storing food etc. And this definition is used in the United States too, so it appears not to be some Americanism. But LibreFood pantries have guests?

'Food pantry' is an Americanism referring to a type of food bank where food is handed out directly ('front line' model).


I have to agree. I was thinking I'd find projects focusing on (private) pantry and food organization. Website certainly didn't help at all.

It seems the project has adopted a repressive code of conduct, allowing for arbitrarily and retroactively defining people's behavior as unacceptable, and consequently sanctioning them all the way up to expulsion. There seem to be no due process rights and such procedures can be conducted secretly based on anonymous denunciations.


Now, don't get me wrong - I have no idea whether that actually happens or not, since I've only just noticed the project. But such a repressive official policy is a bad sign. I doubt it deserves the _Libre_ prefix in its project name.

In general, there are better nits to pick. If they are helping out food pantries to avoid giving Microsoft chunks of their limited budgets for license keys, who the fuck cares? Let's not lose perspective of priorities.

At this point, the culture war set pieces are extremely tired, regardless of which team you root for.

What is 'repressive' about what is described on that page?

>allowing for arbitrarily and retroactively defining people's behavior as unacceptable, and consequently sanctioning them all the way up to expulsion

You could do that without a code of conduct... but even without one I think it would be unfair to criticize a group for it... if you know nothing of that happening.

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