This Student-Run Non-Profit Turns Unused Food Into Meals For the Hungry

Full stomachs, less waste

Jul 8, 2019

Tags:

MEANS, Food Waste

It was as Maria Rose Belding was stacking cans at her church’s food pantry in a small town in Iowa, that she learned that feeding the needy isn’t all that easy. From a young age, Belding spent time in the storage room, stacking cans and taking inventory of which items arrived in surplus, and which ones they desperately needed. During one pivotal moment, the then 14-year-old witnessed her church receive a large donation of macaroni and cheese. Though generous, the amount was more than the community needed and a few months later, she had to throw away the expired boxes, even as hungry people needed meals.

Feeling frustrated and saddened, Belding took to the internet and discovered that although more than 42 million Americans go hungry, up to 40% of the produce and food supply goes to waste. It was this statistic that inspired her to create an online database that could solve the problem. During Belding’s first year in undergrad, she teamed up with Grant Nelson to launch Matching Excess And Need for Stability (MEANS), an online platform that helps businesses connect with charities when they have extra food. And since 2015, the nonprofit has found a great use for more than 1.8 million pounds of food.

Belding said there’s no need for restaurants to throw away their leftover or unused food, especially when there are hungry mouths to feed right in their community.

“Too often, grocery stores and restaurants find themselves throwing out food when there is great need in nearby communities," Belding said. "MEANS aims to make it easier to donate food than throw it in the dumpster. ... We're like a bridge that hasn't existed before."

To receive food from MEANS, organizations must be registered as legal charities in the US. Belding told CNN that when a soup kitchen or homeless shelter needs items, they’ll communicate with the platform. MEANS then checks its database for entries by restaurants, caterers, or grocery stores that share their location, what they have, and when they want everything picked up. The system matches the needs with the entries and can quickly meet those needs - anywhere between half an hour to two minutes and 27 seconds!

While Belding and her team can find a home for the food 95 percent of the time, they’re still excited every time the system helps someone.

"You'd think the novelty would wear off -- nope! In our office, every time you see a donation go live on our admin panel, and then you see somebody has claimed it, you're like, ‘It worked!’ When you see food move, you know that that's people getting to eat that maybe wouldn't have been able to -- or maybe they're getting to eat better than they would have. You're also keeping food from going to landfills. It's just great for everybody."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
How US Farms Are Fighting Food Waste
Zero Food Waste is Becoming a Reality for One Texas City
The Restaurant That Gives Surplus Food a Second Life [Q&A]

REBECCA WOJNO, CONTRIBUTOR
Rebecca is passionate about reading, cooking, and learning about people doing good in the world. She especially loves writing about wellness, personal growth, and relationships.