Fed up by the high rates of food insecurity and food waste in L.A. County, 19-year-old Theo Goldstine came up with a truly GenZ solution — an app that connects individuals with surplus food with those around them who could use that food.

Goldstine took a gap year after graduating from Crossroads High School in May and certainly hasn’t wasted any time since. Armed with three years of computer science classes, a deep love for food and a team of socially conscious friends, he launched the OpenPantry mere months after first coming up with the idea.

“It makes no sense that one third of our food supply goes to waste and 40 percent of household food goes to waste, while in L.A. County right now one out of five people are experiencing some form of food insecurity,” said Goldstine.

OpenPantry tackles both issues at once, by allowing users to post food they have a desire to share and allowing nearby residents to request those items. The app is currently operating in 25 ZIP codes covering an area from the Palisades to Playa Del Rey and inland to La Cienega, with plans to expand further soon.

Once a match is made users can coordinate a food exchange suitable to their schedules. There are options to pick up at a donor’s home, drop off at a requester’s home, or meet in a neutral territory such as a park.

Due to Covid-19 OpenPantry currently requires contactless drop off, but in the future Goldstine hopes that in-person exchanges will bring neighbors together and spread goodwill throughout the local community.

“I think that food sharing is one of the most powerful acts of love, frankly, that people can do,” said Goldstine. “When we share food and we create a special space through a connection over something that’s so key to being human.”

This person-to-person connection is one of the benefits that OpenPantry has over the traditional food bank model, which is highly impersonal and doesn’t allow donors and recipients to form any sort of relationship.

OpenPantry is also better suited for household food surpluses, which food banks are not well equipped to process.

For example, food banks rarely accept fresh produce due to how quickly it expires and people who have one or two extra items often won’t bother traveling to a bank to drop them off. OpenPantry allows users to list precisely what items they have available at that moment and they can easily leave the food on their doorstep for a match to pick up.

People are required to list the expiration date of items and posts are automatically taken down once that date is reached. To further protect community members, the OpenPantry user agreement requires people only post food they would eat themselves and to disclose any allergies they may have.

The app is run by a group of around 20 university age young adults who have big dreams for its future. Once the West L.A. program has been piloted and adapted, they predict the app could be rolled out across the country.

Goldstine believes OpenPantry can integrate well into existing food donation systems and be used by food banks and restaurants to request and donate larger quantities of food. Currently, the app works by donors listing items, but Goldstine also would like to add a feature where residents can list a need and the local community can rally to support them.

“What inspired this is when I was in second grade my mom had cancer, and what really helped get us through it is that people in our life put together a schedule and made us meals for a whole month,” said Goldstine. “So if someone is going through something they can post it and the community can come together to make sure that they have the love and support that food brings.”

Although he is excited to journey to New York City to study computer science at NYU this fall, Goldstine said he will always think of Santa Monica as the place where his love for both coding and food began.

“The sense of community I experienced walking around and talking to people at the farmers market made me imagine a world where you can have a virtual community based off of food,” said Goldstine. “The Santa Monica Farmers Market and my time at Crossroads, both those things really helped inspire the app.”

The Open Pantry app is free and is available now in the iOS App Store and Android App Store for users in the following ZIP codes: 90024, 90025, 90034, 90035, 90048, 90049, 90064, 90066, 90067, 90073, 90077, 90095, 90210, 90211, 90212, 90230, 90232, 90272, 90291, 90292, 90401, 90402, 90403, 90404, 90405.

Clara@smdp.com