A food bank volunteer and her coder friend figured out how to feed thousands of people.
Anyone can have a good idea, but it takes a special person to follow through. Maria Rose Belding is one of those people.
While volunteering at a food pantry, Maria Rose noticed that huge amounts of good food were being tossed out at the end of every day. The food pantry couldn’t share those resources with neighboring towns because — even in the internet age — it was incredibly difficult to get hold of the necessary people in order to do so. Maria Rose was only in the eighth grade, but this flawed system didn’t sit well with her.
Years later, she found herself in a position to do something about it. Take a look:
You see, we have enough food in this country to feed everyone. Still, there are about 49 million Americans who are food insecure.
"If we had a crisis that was affecting one in six Americans, that was strongly associated with not finishing high school, with not going to college. That was strongly associated with bad health outcomes, with mortality, with incarceration, with behavioral health issues. If we had a crisis that was doing that to one in six of us, we would be freaking out," Maria said.
"And that’s exactly what hunger is. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be quick, but we can fix this. And we should."
She points out that the effects of food insecurity — not being able to rely on access to affordable and nutritious foods — go far beyond an individual’s health.
"You can’t strategize about getting a job, about finding higher-paying employment, about continuing your education, about taking care of your kids. You can’t think about any of those things if you haven’t eaten anything today," she said.
Knowing how deeply the food was needed and then watching surplus donated food get thrown away was mind-blowing to Maria Rose. She knew there had to be a better way.
Maria Rose enlisted her coder friend Grant Nelson to help her build a nationwide database for food banks: MEANS.
The premise is simple: Food pantries and restaurants — really, all places with extra food — indicate in the database excess food that they have available. Nonprofits in the area are alerted via text or email and are able to go pick up the much-needed food and get it to hungry people.
What’s incredible is that Maria Rose saw a problem and figured out a way to do something about it. Her actions transformed the way food banks are able to communicate with the rest of the community. MEANS makes it possible for so many more people to eat — a basic necessity and human right.
Today, MEANS works with over 800 organizations in 45 states.
Thousands of pounds of food that would have otherwise been trashed are being redistributed every month thanks to MEANS.
A single person had an idea and acted on it and revolutionized a process that has a direct effect on so many people’s lives. It started with her deciding to take action. Imagine what else we can accomplish.