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How Slack, Airtable and open-source software connected New Yorkers during the pandemic


When COVID-19 began ravaging New York City in March, several residents of the city’s Astoria neighborhood launched a group to help vulnerable residents with things like grocery shopping or picking up prescriptions.

But the Astoria Mutual Aid Network soon found the logistics of matching people who needed help with those who could offer assistance increasingly daunting.

That’s when several members of the Astoria Tech Meetup decided to step in. “Clearly there needs to be a process around that,” cloud consultant Peter Valdez recalls thinking.

The result: open-source software that uses Airtable spreadsheets, Slack collaboration software, and geocoding from Google or Mapquest to automatically find volunteers closest to a person requesting help. It’s now available to other groups trying to assist neighbors in need during the pandemic.

“We have been putting the code out there and documenting it with the express purpose of making it accessible to other groups, too,” cloud consultant Peter Valdez explained. And a new group formed around this effort, Astoria Digital, would be willing to help other community groups use the technology for helping neighbors during the pandemic.

The Astoria Mutual Aid Network system starts with two forms: One for people seeking help, another for those who want to volunteer.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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