Humanitarian efforts are a pleasure to witness no matter the source, but it’s hard to deny that it is particularly heartwarming when our youth takes charity into their own hands.
That’s exactly what happened with the platform MEANS, created by Maria Rose Belding, in her freshman year of college. Maria took one of our most obvious problems- hunger and matched it with another of our country’s obvious problems- food waste. In what seems like a no brainer, food pantries and other charities are able to log on (for free) to MEANS and connect with restaurants and food businesses in the area that have excess food. Since their beginning in 2015, more than 1.8 million pounds of food have been redistributed.
Hailing from a small town in Idaho, Maria grew up volunteering in her church’s food pantry. After seeing a large donation end up in the garbage because they received more food than the community could use, she was frustrated at how hard it was to connect with other charities that could’ve potentially used the resources. Once in high school, the idea of the platform exchange was born, but Maria didn’t have the technical know-how to do it until meeting Grant Nelson in college. Grant, a law school student who wrote code, was able to help bring MEANS, an acronym for Matching Excess And Need for Stability, to life.
The system itself is genius in its simplicity. In order to receive food, food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, etc, have to be a legally registered charity. They can then post when they are in need. On the other side, grocery stores, food retailers, catering halls, etc. can post what they have for donation and when they need it gone by. The system automatically notifies anyone who has posted within the area. With about 3,000 partners in the entire country, the average amount of time it takes food to be claimed is only about 30 minutes, with the record time being two and a half minutes. Regardless of how unusual the food donations are (they once had a donation of 50 pounds of squab-baby pigeon!), the food is placed 95% of the time.
Most impressive is that the majority of the staff are high school and college students,balancing MEANS with their classes, homework and other jobs. Despite having a non existent college social life and her GPA perhaps not being where it could’ve been otherwise, Maria is fulfilled knowing her work is changings thousands of lives across the country.