Women’s Habitat

Interview with Lina Almanzan

1. Who are you and what do you do?

I am the Resource and Systems Manager, and I have the privilege to work with donors and volunteers on a daily basis.

2. What was your involvement in Gift the Code 2016?

I met the Gift the Code team early in the year to introduce our agency. We had a preliminary conversation about our IT needs and the possibility to participate in Gift the Code 2016. Once we were part of the project, I developed descriptions of the digital challenges we wanted to solve. I also had the opportunity to directly interact with the teams and see them present the solutions they built for us at the end of the event.    

3. Why did you get involved?

We received support from Capital One in the past, and as a small agency, we’re always looking for creatives ways to fulfill our mission on a very limited budget. We don’t always have the money to resolve some of the challenges we face or to be innovative in the way we deliver our services. We were very excited to introduce our cause to more people by engaging different demographics and reaching younger generations.    

4. What was your experience like at the event? Was it different from your expectations?

We were not aware of how big the event was. We knew about the preparations and efforts of Capital One, but it was a surprise. It definitely exceeded our expectations. It was a great opportunity to get exposure but also to be able to meet very caring and supportive people who want to contribute.    

5. What were some of the positive outcomes from the event?

We were able to introduce our agency to a very diverse audience and we met other agencies that are doing great work. We were asked great questions, and we got perspective and feedback from external stakeholders. Our social media got the highest numbers ever!! On another note, Capital One was very kind to volunteer at out agency during the holiday season for the clients’ dinner, and we hope to continue working together.       

6. Is there anything you want participants for this year’s hackathon to know that you wish you had known?

Yes. Be ready to start the work on the weekend. All the planning, approvals, communication and budget (if any) must be done in advance. Have concrete expectations and prioritize your challenges.

Second Harvest

Interview with Jennifer Verschraegen

1. Who are you and what do you do?

Second Harvest is Canada’s largest food rescue organization, recovering surplus food and distributing it to social service agencies that serve people in need. Through our work, we prevent the needless waste of 10 million pounds of food per year and we nourish over 200,000 food-insecure people.  

2. What was your involvement in Gift the Code 2016?

We participated as a charity beneficiary in Gift the Code 2016. The four challenges we put forward to the hackers focused on digital solutions for manual processes.  

3. Why did you get involved?

We got involved because Capital One is a long-time partner and supporter of Second Harvest. We also wanted to see what kinds of solutions the hackathon teams could invent for a few activities that required a lot of manual heavy-lifting around data capture and analysis, and the opportunity to do something different outside of our day-to-day activities was exciting.  

4. What was your experience like at the event? Was it different from your expectations?

Our experience at Gift the Code was an outstanding intersection of inviting atmosphere, technical skill, ingenuity and generosity. The volunteer hackers programmed through the weekend with such tireless enthusiasm and dedication to their challenges, developing creative solutions that could increase the efficiency of our analytics and provide better user experiences. Knowing that Capital One was at the heart of this event meant that our expectations were pretty high – and as usual, the Capital One team blew expectations out of the water!  

5. What were some of the positive outcomes from the event?

Being part of Gift the Code got us thinking outside of our usual patterns and looking to possibilities instead of operating within restrictions. That started right from when we drafted our challenge statements. We got four great solutions to the challenges we put forth – we were not expecting to have them all tackled over that weekend. Although we haven’t yet been able to put the solutions to work, we have the blueprints at our fingertips for when internal capacity allows implementation.  

6. Is there anything you want participants for this year’s Hackathon to know that you wish you had known?

We would recommend that charity beneficiaries carefully consider their proposed challenges from end to end, and only submit those that they feel are manageable within the context of their day-to-day workload and organizational priorities. For example, engaging colleagues cross-functionally can help identify challenges whose potential solutions are within the scope of available time and resources.


Anne Creighton

Toronto Pflag was started by parents in the 1970s to support the gay community as attitudes lagged far behind the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969. In particular, the parents wanted to help those whose parents had rejected them or failed to understand them.  

Today, Toronto Pflag stills supports parents and individuals who identify as LGBTQ* and their allies. We do this directly through three community meetings each month and phone support daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. In addition, we are official partners of the Toronto District School Board, offering free workshops for students in grades 2 to 12 and workplace-focused presentations.  

We do this without staff. Our charity is run entirely by volunteers.

In October 2016, we were one of six charities invited to participate in Capital One’s Gift the Code Hackathon. We brought to the hackathon several challenges we faced:

  • Reaching wider racial and social demographics
  • Recruiting more “Kick-Ass” accepting parents to join our efforts as volunteers
  • Keeping track of volunteers

We had no idea what to expect.

What we discovered was a huge group of big-hearted, mostly young, people who dedicated an entire weekend to helping us solve our problems. We spent the weekend with these young professionals as we tried to help them understand our mission as well as capabilities and worries about the charity. Of the four teams dedicated to us, two chose to work on a chat feature as a tool to engage a younger and more widespread audience. They also felt the anonymity of Chat might be attractive as an alternative to in-person and phone support. Both Chat teams worked hard over the weekend to get a product ready for us to see how it would work. Within the available time frame, it was not possible to finish the product.

What totally amazed us was the team volunteering beyond the weekend to clean up the code and make it easier for someone else to pick it up and finish it. They worked one more weekend and several evenings after the hackathon was over. Our gratitude for these young coders and developers knows no bounds.

Since then, we have started research to see how volunteer-run agencies offer Chat and to learn what demographics it reaches. Once our research is complete, we will look at the business case for going forward. We have a work plan established and an agency willing to work with us to publicize the new offering when we are ready to proceed. Gift the Code got this started.

I believe the dedication we saw in the team reflected the passion we have not just for our cause, but also for making our cause personal: we talked about the children we had helped and the parents whose hearts we had touched. We talked about our own children.

We cannot thank Capital One enough for the wonderful weekend itself and for the legacy it left for our charity.