HOBOKEN, NJ - Charity beings at home, and in the spirit of that proverb, there are numerous options in our hometown for those looking to give locally. Stevens grad Frank DiCola wanted to learn more about Hoboken charities, and in the process developed an app that helps others find the most effective ways they can donate time, money, or goods in and around the Mile Square City.
"When I was a student at Stevens, I wanted to volunteer in town but I didn't know most of the charities in the area," said DiCola. "There's something kind of intimidating about just showing up during open volunteer hours. That's why I wanted to create a convenient, all-in-one experience that shows you everything going on in town at a glance and also lets you sign up to volunteer."
Hoboken Charity Quest is a downloadable app that gives information on a variety of charitable events or programs throughout Hoboken and Hudson County, so that those interested can find initiatives and keep track of their involvement.
"Each 'Quest' comes with as much information as I could fit on the screen so that you feel confident walking in the door for that first volunteer event," said DiCola. "I learned a lot about game design during the development of Where Shadows Slumber, the mobile puzzle game I launched back in 2018 with fellow Stevens alum Jack Kelly. That's informing a lot of my decisions going forward about how Hoboken Charity Quest can be more like an augmented-reality game and less like an app."
A member of the Hoboken Food Pantry volunteer board, DiCola is in contact with a number of local charities.
"I'm manually taking their service events and putting them into the system. They know I'm building the app, so they've allowed me to bring in a certain number of volunteers per event for them," says DiCola. "If I see something on social media for another charity, such as a request for donations, I'll add that as well. But in the future I want the information to come from the charities themselves, so I'm programming an interface for them. Most volunteers will never see that side of the system, but it's the most important part. I'm designing it so that people who aren't tech-savvy can add or remove events from the map, and I want it to be as easy as updating your Facebook Page."
Giving has been very much at the forefront of the community response to COVID-19. However, the logistics behind executing hands-on charitable initiatives made things complicated.
"I was going to soft-launch in March with some cooking slots at the Hoboken Shelter. We had to cancel those because of the pandemic, as well as their 80's Night Fundraiser. The volunteer situation over there still looks minimal due to the indoor dining restrictions, I believe staff is handling everything and only donations are permitted," said DiCola. "They can use plenty of bagged sandwiches and financial donations, though!"
DiCola was able to adapt to the new normal and retool Hoboken Charity Quest.
"I just tried to post digital donation information for each charity. But that's not really the core experience of the app, since it's mainly about volunteering. Since the Hoboken Food Pantry (which is under the Hoboken Community Center) has a massive amount of physical volunteering happening this summer, I decided to work with them first."
The launch of Hoboken Charity Quest has made an immediate impact on the community.
"I'm surprised at the number of people who have signed up to make an account, and I'm thrilled people are really using it! At the time of this writing, I count 150 volunteers in total. After so many months of programming, it's an odd feeling having it out in the wild. I appreciate everyone who has given me feedback about bugs and requests for new features. I'm so grateful that the citizens of Hoboken are stepping up to help out, and that they have found the app helpful," said DiCola. "I'm excited to see how the app grows. In particular, I owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who helped spread the word online."
Hoboken 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, who also works with the Hoboken Community Center (HCC) Food Pantry, has been a leading proponent of the app.
"The time slots are typically two hours, so I hope you can sign up for the app, and then sign up to help at the HCC Food Pantry. The app also currently includes volunteer and donation opportunities for the Hoboken Shelter and Round2Resources and we expect the list will grow exponentially as soon as word gets out."
One goal of Hoboken Charity Quest is to team with local businesses to reward charitable efforts with discounts and bonus programs.
"Our first official sponsor is H&S Giovanni's Restaurant and Pizzeria (603 Washington Street)," said DiCola. "Everyone who volunteered through the app has earned points that they can spend on discounts at Gio's. I would appreciate it if everyone ordered a pizza from them to say thanks for taking a chance on this new venture. Whether you use the discount or not is up to you, as long as you order from them!"
Any local businesses looking to partake in the program, email Frank at contact@GameRevenant.com.
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