BY: ADRIAN SMITH
As a high school freshman, Maria Rose Belding found it difficult to watch the director of the local soup pantry she volunteered at in Iowa struggle to find a home for the 10,000 boxes of macaroni and cheese a church kindly donated to them. A lot of food ended up being wasted after they failed to find a home for it before the expiration date. She realized then that the problem wasn’t getting enough food to offer the people that needed it. The problem was getting in touch with those food banks and homes to begin with.
Years later, as a sophomore at American University, Belding has taken strides to ensure this lack of connection doesn’t result in similar food waste—as the co founder of MEANS Database, an app that connects people, organizations and businesses that have food to give to the people that need it.
MEANS operates in a simple and organized fashion. The database functions using a website and app that allows donors to list the food they have available. Once the food is listed, donees receive notifications that tell them food is available. Someone then claims the food and arranges for it to be picked up and delivered to the donee. MEANS has already saved 4,000 pounds of food from going to waste in its first year, resulting in a number of accolades for Belding.
MEANS has already saved 4,000 pounds of food from going to waste in its first year.
MEANS is the first non-profit organization to win the GW New Venture Competition, an annual collegiate business plan competition that offers prizes including free legal counsel, office space, professional consultation services and more. GW is the fifth largest business plan competition in the country, and provides students, faculty, staff and their alumni with real world educational experience in developing, testing and launching their own startups. Belding’s app also won a $10,000 prize from L’Oreal Paris, where, at the impressive age of 20 years, she was the youngest of 10 honorees. Winning these competitions has allowed MEANS to become self-sufficient. They’ve gathered enough earnings to hire a small staff of 11 employees, 10 interns and a handful of volunteers.
Belding’s app also won a $10,000 prize from L’Oreal Paris, where, at the impressive age of 20 years, she was the youngest of 10 honorees.
What separates MEANS from other food rescue organizations is its sound technology, developed by co-founder Grant Nelson, as well as its wide reach. With over 200 donor recipient accounts representing more than 2,000 partner agencies and programs spread out over 27 states in America, the MEANS app allows every donation to find a home by allowing smaller organizations and individuals to communicate on a smaller scale—which is vital to the people they help.
There are 48 million Americans living in food insecurity each day, uncertain of where they’ll find their next meal, unable to gather enough to feed themselves and their families. This happens because they lack the money or resources to get what they need. What makes this statistic even sadder is that, each year, Americans waste approximately 40 per cent of the country’s food, which means there’s enough wasted food to feed a large portion of those people living in food insecurity.
The problem, therefore, lays in bringing the two together—the people who have food to give to the ones who haven’t any to eat, and it’s Belding’s app that seamlessly connects the two. Although she’s been highly successful preventing food waste thus far, Belding isn’t satisfied yet. She hopes to create a public, searchable directory of food pantries for next year, while growing and improving upon what she’s already accomplished—all while keeping up her great academic standing as a sophomore in college.
Image sourcing: cambio.com