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How one student’s tech solution is feeding the hungry of America

4 min read

Good Stuff

Maria Rose Belding’s tech solution to help the millions of Americans who don’t regularly have enough to eat by connecting them with the massive amounts of food in America that goes wasted is a stroke of genius.

Using technology to insure unwanted food gets to hungry Americans

Maria Rose Belding wanted to help feed the millions of Americans who don’t regularly have enough to eat by connecting them with the massive amounts of food in America that goes wasted—estimated at up to 40%. So she teamed up with a fellow student to develop a free online platform called MEANS, which puts businesses that have extra food in touch with charities that feed the hungry. With over 3,000 partners, and users in 49 states and the District of Columbia, run largely by high school and college students, the nonprofit has helped redistribute more than 1.8m lbs/816,466 kg of food since 2015.

Connecting surplus food with the charities who need it Led by Maria Rose Belding, a group of students created MEANS Database to help connect businesses with leftovers to charities in need. Source: YouTube/NBC-News

MEANS aims to make it easier to donate food than to throw it in the dumpster

College student Maria Rose Belding grew up working in her church’s food pantry in her small Iowa hometown.

"Jesus said, ‘For I was hungry and you fed me.’ … Stacking cans was my answer to this call," says Belding.

As she got older, she realised that feeding the hungry wasn’t as straightforward as it should be. The pantry’s shelves overflowed with some items while other foods were desperately needed.

In 2009, when she was 14, the pantry received a huge donation of macaroni and cheese that was more than the community could use, and she saw how hard it was to contact other charities that could take it.

Months later, she had to throw away hundreds of the expired boxes as people waited in line for food.

"I remember just crying and being so angry," Belding, now 22, told CNN. "There was nothing that really allowed us to communicate in an efficient way. … The Internet was right in front of us!”

Belding had stumbled upon two problems that still plague the U.S. food system. According to the USDA, more than 40 million Americans don’t regularly have enough to eat while up to 40% of the country’s food supply is wasted

So while still in high school, Belding developed an idea for an online database that could solve both problems, but she didn’t have the programming skills to make it work. Soon after graduating, however, she met Grant Nelson, a law student who was writing code on his laptop.

About nine months later, during Belding’s freshman year at American University, they launched MEANS, a free online platform that connects businesses with extra food to charities that feed the hungry.

Run largely by high school and college students, by December of 2018 the nonprofit had helped redistribute more than 1.8 million pounds (816,466 kg) of food since 2015.

Source: CNN

Food Scarcity | Maria Rose Belding | TEDxAmericanUniversity The U.S. wastes 40% of its food, but 45 million Americans go hungry. Compassion and technology can fix this. Maria Rose Belding is a nationally recognised writer on food security policy and practice, with pieces published by Scholastic, Gannett and the Huffington Post and her resources for fellow students in schools in nine nations. Maria Rose's work has been honored by STOP Hunger Now, L'Oreal Paris, South by Southwest, and the White House. She is a sophomore at American University's College of Arts and Sciences where she studies public health on the premed track. Source: YouTube/TEDxTalks

What does ‘MEANS’ stand for, and how does it work?

MEANS is an acronym that stands for Matching Excess And Need for Stability.

It’s pretty straightforward . If you want to get food from MEANS, you need to be registered as a legal charity in the United States. So, when a soup kitchen, homeless shelter or a food pantry needs something, they tell the system. And when a grocery store, caterer or food retailer has something they want to donate, all they have to do is go online and say, "This is where I am, this is what I’ve got, and this is when I need it gone by."  Then the system automatically notifies all of those who have said, "I need things within these parameters." 

They’re able to match up excess and need very, very quickly. At this point, MEANS has about 3,000 partners in 48 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The Emerson Act—a ‘Good Samaritan’ law passed in 1996—protects donors from liability.

How does Belding balance running MEANS with being a full-time student?

Pretty much everybody on the staff is running between classes, labs and work. The original office was split between co-founder Grant’s apartment and the basement of Belding’s freshman year dorm. Now they’re based in the American University Center for Innovation, and this semester Belding’s physics class was down the hall, so she literally ran there a minute before class started.

“I actually took a year off to devote myself to MEANS full time. Now I am a rising senior and will graduate next May with my pre-medical requirements met. I’m definitely not having a normal college experience. I’ve never been to a Greek life event, I’m not in any clubs, and I know I would have a much better G.P.A. if I wasn’t doing this. But this is more important than me.”

“What makes it worth it is knowing that we’re building something that matters a lot more than we do.”

Maria Rose is one of ‘Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2018’

Source: CNN-Edition

Make an Impact

Want to get involved? Check out the MEANS website and see how to help or donate

133 billion pounds of food are thrown out in the US annually. Donating to nearby nonprofits can save food donors money with tax deductions while feeding those in need in their communities. Donating Is Fast, Easy, and Safe. Click to find out more.