A few months ago, led by a large story in the New York Times, people were introduced to the idea that some college students were struggling to afford to eat. Many publications piled on. Since, questions have been raisedabout the report that triggered the coverage. But the premise, that a population of American students is on unhealthy footing with food, remains, even though attention has sadly shifted elsewhere.
What may be the most surprising thing about campus food insecurity is not that it exists but that it took a current college student to propose such an obvious partial remedy.
Saahil Chadha is an incoming sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley double-majoring in computer science and molecular cellular biology. This year, he wrote an article for Berkeley Scientific on machine learning in medicine. In June, Chadha was part of a team that won the Modo Ideathon, a multi-school, 24-hour app-building challenge for which his team scored a $10,000 prize.
“For the ideathon, we were supposed to take on a campus problem we wanted to address,” Chadha said. “The problem we settled on was that Berkeley, for whatever reason, does not have a convenient way to view your dining dollars and meal swipes and a lot were not being used and we thought that was a waste. So, we asked, if we were the ones who weren’t using all our meals, were there people at Berkeley who were using all they had and actually needed more?”
So, the team asked and, it turns out, there are.
Last year, the university did a survey that found that, across the University of California system, nearly a third of students said they skipped meals for lack of money and 39% said they ate less than they felt they should because of money. At Berkeley specifically, those numbers were 28% and 36% respectively.
“Some kids are skipping meals and others have too much leftover,” Chadha said. “That’s where we came up with the idea to create an app to facilitate the donation of dining dollars and swipes between students – peer to peer donation,” he said.
Accordingly, the app Chadha and his team designed is called BearAppétit and it allows students to anonymously donate unused food credits to students who may need them. It’s also an all-in-one resource for students facing food insecurity with access to on-campus mentors and walk-throughs on how to access national and state food resources.
“This won’t replace what the university is already doing for food insecurity,” Chadha said. And, like many schools, Berkeley has been proactive in addressing hunger and related student resources issues. At the same time, for BearAppétit to work, the administration is going to have to help by doing things such as extending the shelf-life of meal vouchers long enough to work through a donation and use cycle and making the sharing app part of the school’s digital infrastructure.
And they may.
“We talked to people working on overall Berkeley apps and they are very excited. And since we built our app on the Modo platform, which the school already uses, it’s pretty easy to add to their system,” Chadha said. “When school starts back, we’ll be talking with the CTO and the CMO to help get the rest of admin on board,” he said.
The idea is so simple, so easy, it’s difficult to understand why it won’t work. Or won’t spread. And it should. And according to Chadha, it can.
“What’s interesting is that this app was built on software that’s very accessible to those with a non-tech background,” Chadha said. “I was the only person on the team with a computer background and we went from idea and design to full product in 24 hours,” he said.
That accessibility to solution means that no campus, no student needs to wait for their administration to figure out an unused meal donation and use system. They can build one themselves and take it in to an administrator’s office, ready to go. “They absolutely should,” Chadha said. “It’s not overly complicated and, if I can, I’m happy to help by sharing what we did because my goal is that every food insecure person on campus is able to have access to all the food they need and put on a course of long term food security,” he said.
It’s a goal shared by many – just as his easy solution should be.
Curated from Forbes.com
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