A new software prototype called eFeed-Hungers makes it easier to donate extra food, which might otherwise go to waste.
Sugam Sharma remembers as a child listening to his parents talk about hunger. While his family always had enough to eat, hunger was prevalent and something he regularly witnessed growing up and as a young adult in India.
“It is really heart wrenching to witness a mother in shabby and torn clothes, holding her baby, come to you and ask for help because her baby hasn’t had anything to eat,” says Sharma, a computer science expert and systems analyst in Iowa State University’s Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology. “This I have witnessed often in my life.”
When he moved to the US in 2006 to continue his education, Sharma says he quickly recognized hunger was not just a problem in India. What he found most troubling was the amount of food going to waste—in both countries—when so many people go without. After reading about elementary schools sending food packages home with students, Sharma decided to make hunger the primary focus of his research.
A program that distributes leftover food from catered events to the homeless in India inspired the vision for the online, interactive network, Sharma says. Restaurants, grocery stores, and individuals can use the mobile-friendly software to post food they have to donate. Likewise, those in need can find nearby locations where food is available for pickup.
The researchers designed the software so donors take the food to a public place, such as a food pantry or church serving free meals, for pickup and distribution. It allows for one-time and recurring donations, so businesses or individuals do not have to enter their information repeatedly. Sharma says the interactive map makes it easy to search. Each location appears with a flag to indicate the type of food, and hours it is available.
“We wanted to make it as simple as possible, so people will not hesitate to donate,” Sharma says. “There is no scarcity of food. We see this as a way to take some of the food we’re wasting and save it by providing a channel to get the extra food to the needy.”
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Researchers continue to test the prototype and plan to launch the site for the Ames, Iowa, community in late summer or early fall. Sharma says they are working on funding to provide education and outreach for restaurants, food pantries, churches, and residents interested in participating. Their goal is to add gradually other cities and regions that may benefit from the tool.
“Almost everyone has a cell phone and the technology has the potential for a much wider outreach,” he says. “I don’t know how successful we will be, but we’re making an honest effort to tackle this problem. If we can help provide food for even one percent, we’ll be happy.”