On retiring Range, a mobile app

Caravan Studios
4 min read4 days ago

Recently my team at Caravan Studios removed the Range app from app stores in our efforts to retire the technology from public use. These relatively small moves betray the larger story of why and how we came to retire Range, an app that finds where free summer meals are served to youth when school is out.

When Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup, first formed, our plan was to design technology with community members and then hand over the technology to an organization within the sector that designed it. They designed it, so they owned it, was our thought. We have always considered the many individuals and organizations that collaborate with us to design technology as Owners. And in the early days, our plan was that word would make a semantic leap from owners as collaborators to actual owners as managers and decision makers.

Over the years that plan hasn’t worked out in the way we originally imagined. Managing a technology–making updates, fixing bugs, securing funding and resources–is more than a list of tasks. It’s making sure you have the resources and expertise to keep ahead of issues and keep your user base happy. Many nonprofits do not have the resources to manage technology for their community, and as Caravan Studios matured, we continued to oversee many of the products, projects, and programs that emerged from our community-centered design methodology.

This decision to no longer support Range took time and deep consideration. For a decade, our team has passionately advocated for making the process of finding free summer meals easier for families. Many of us have developed a close relationship to the issue of hunger in our communities and the need for a tool like Range. We wanted to make sure this was the right decision. And it was.

The reasons that influenced this decision are not new or particularly interesting, but they were pervasive enough to make us pay attention. Here’s the shortlist:

  1. The technology requires upgrades to continue operating

Technology changes rapidly, and after 10 years of service, the Range code is no longer compatible with many of the latest mobile devices. Bringing the product up to date would require a major overhaul. That work requires funding.

2. Lack of funding

This is a hard fact, but not uncommon for nonprofit organizations. Our organization has financed the technology needs and the program team that keeps Range running with internal funding since the project’s inception. This project was that important to us. As budgets squeeze, priorities shift, and grants evade, the limits to sustaining that type of financial burden were bound to emerge. That is where we are today.

3. Methods of finding meal sites has expanded

When we first dreamed up the idea for Range, the Summer Food Service Program was woefully under subscribed, inconsistent and non-standard site data flowed to the USDA, and families across the US learned of the program from paper flyers stuffed in kids’ backpacks on the last days of school. Range was the only app to find these sites and the only map in your hand that helped you get to a site near you. Now, the USDA has a site finder, a texting service, and a phone number to find sites. In addition, a few states have their own mobile apps to find summer meal sites. What’s more, the now permanent Summer EBT program (starting summer of 2024) may change the way families receive additional support to feed their families.

Our commitment to addressing hunger

Since launching Range, we’ve contributed to and led a variety of projects that focus on issues related to food insecurity. If you’re interested in collaborating with us on a project–either one listed below or something that’s new to us–please get in touch.

  • Food security problems to solve and community tech solutions: weigh in on common issues you’d like addressed and see how technology is intervening to get food to people who need it most.
  • TechSoup’s Data Commons for Civil Society: use public data and visualizations to inform decisions or bolster narratives about food security in the U.S.
  • TechSoup Quad: if you work in food security, consider becoming a member of TechSoup Quad. Quad is a community space that TechSoup hosts to convene nonprofits around common issues and shared solutions. In the Food Security Quad, you can ask questions, learn from your peers, attend a virtual event, and feel like you’re less alone. Here’s how to become a member.

We’ve learned a lot over the years, and one thing is for sure: we are committed to helping people access food. Please join us with your ideas or questions at Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup.

~Sarah Washburn, a member of the Caravan Studios team

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Caravan Studios

Connects nonprofits & social benefit orgs w/ app-based tech to build solutions for real-world problems.Also tweets #opendata #hackathons.A division of @TechSoup