Bento was founded to tackle a tragic American absurdity: that in a country of such vast wealth and resources, an estimated 50 million people last year faced hunger and food insecurity. The startup, recently spun off from Not Impossible Labs, sought to improve on the nation’s decades-old, go-to solution for those in such a predicament: waiting in a long line at a food bank. Instead, Bento—aiming to bring greater efficiency and dignity to the process—turned to text messaging. Individuals in need, who get access to the service through community organizations, simply type “order” into their phone and, through an automated conversation, choose from a curated list of healthy options offered by participating restaurants and grocery stores, which they then go pick up.
Bento, which launched in April 2020, has so far facilitated more than 160,000 meals for more than 3,000 individuals in 10 communities. In July, it partnered with the professional services firm Genpact to accelerate efforts to scale to 1 million meals per month. Bento hopes the effect is better health outcomes, and the company’s text-messaging prompts go beyond food, connecting its users with transportation, chronic disease management programs, job training, and the other wraparound services the company’s enterprise customers (nonprofits, local governments, health care systems, and universities) provide in their communities.
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