MealMate

Build a platform to facilitate & optimize the redistribution of unused food from donors to service providers to better serve people in need.

Photo of Audrey Acken

Written by

Additional categories (optional)

  • Education
  • Technology

Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Date You Started Your Project Started

9/20/2019

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Idea (hoping to get started in the future)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Food insecurity and food waste are two of the biggest problems we have today. We want to understand and help solve the specific challenges facing this almost incomprehensible reality. For food banks, donations often fluctuate, lacking in healthy choices & diversity. For donors, they often lack convenient ways or don't know what's in demand. We are using technology to build MealMate to improve the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the process.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We’re building a platform to be used by MealMate members in order to optimize food supply and demand. A member can be a "donor” (grocery stores, restaurants, caterers, schools etc) or a "recipient" ( food banks, shelters, community groups, schools etc). We are designing tools that would allow recipients to input food items that they need into wishlists whenever they’d like, while also enabling donors to update their supply lists at any time. The lists will include food types, quantities, and expiration dates. We plan on utilizing the locations of donors so that recipients (and their community volunteers) can coordinate pick up & delivery. We also plan to explore partnerships with food delivery companies for transportation needs. We are still doing extensive user research to find out the needs and challenges faced by all the members in the process, and are excited to build the service prototype (web, app, messaging) to address those challenges. We'll test and iterate to achieve optimal matching for food supply and demand, in both quantity & variety. Over time we also plan to develop machine learning models based on the accumulated data for more accurate forecasting for the region.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

Like many of our friends and families, we volunteer at food banks and shelters to serve people in need. We participate in seasonal food drives. But it just doesn't feel enough anymore. More than 1 in 10 people in the Bay Area are hungry, yet more than 1/3 of food produced globally is wasted each year. In an area where tech companies offer all you can eat free food, where food delivery apps can satisfy almost any cravings within minutes, these numbers simply don't make sense. We want to do more and make an impact on a large scale. Our initial research tells us that the challenges food banks face include fluctuating donations, unhealthy food choices, and food lacking ethnic diversity. We believe this can be solved by optimizing supply and demand. We plan to do this by combining user centered design thinking with technologies such as machine learning.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

When a donor organization signs up for MealMate, they indicate what type of supplier they are (e.g. a grocery store, restaurant, or catering company) and their location. In real time, they can input what excess food they have and by when the food should be picked up. They can also look at wish lists with food items recipient organizations have requested. They can notify the recipients if there's a match. On the other hand, a recipient organization can sign up for MealMate and input items into their wishlists. The recipients can also claim an offer that donors have listed, and have volunteers in their community fulfill pickup and delivery. Recipients will be notified whenever there's a match based on location proximity. Through this system, there will be less excess food wasted from donors, more access to healthy food options for recipients, & a decrease in the food inequality gap!

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Looking at the projects in the "hunger" category on Changemakers & Ashoka network, most are focused on community outreach and volunteer activism. We haven’t seen any effort targeting the inefficiency issue at scale. According to our research, the biggest challenges food banks face are donation fluctuation & the lack of healthy choices & diversity. We want to build a system that can optimally match what’s needed with what’s in excess. By allowing MealMate members to explicitly state their wish list and supply list, we can not only reduce the unpredictability but also promote healthy varieties.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Because we are still at the idea stage, we don't have any numbers yet. But because we are targeting efficiency - a very specific challenge in solving food insecurity and food waste, we are confident that our user centered approach and the technical solutions we build will make a big difference. MealMate is going to be a membership based program. The more members we sign up and use the service, the more engaged our communities will be. We will measure the impact in efficiency by looking at data - the amount of food saved for the donors, and the amount as well as the variety of food fulfilled for the recipients. Not only will it be data driven, we will also build real connections amongst the communities on both the supply side and the demand side through member events.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We’ve done some initial research, but it’s really important for us to have a full understanding of the current challenges in food waste and food insecurity in Bay Area. Our first step is to have in person interviews with the people and organizations (stores, restaurants, food banks, people living with food insecurity), to better identify needs & pain points in order to build MealMate. We also plan to develop partnerships with existing food delivery companies like UberEats or Doordash to help with transportation & logistics. Furthermore, we plan to use the data collected overtime to develop machine learning models that can more accurately predict the supply and demand for the region. Then we'll deploy the platform to more regions in the US.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Program Design

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French) (6)
  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani) (9)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Other

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or T-Mobile, who was it?

AI4ALL alumni newsletter.

Evaluation results

7 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 28.6%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 57.1%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 14.3%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 42.9%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 14.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 28.6%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 14.3%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 14.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 28.6%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 42.9%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 14.3%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 66.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 33.3%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 42.9%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 28.6%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 14.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 14.3%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

19 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Levi Grimm
Team

Hi Audrey,

Great project! I am from a food bank (JEE Foods) in Ohio that has the exact problem you are describing. Our organization uses food rescue and there is always a fluctuation in donations. We are a student powered non-profit that noticed the same issues in the very beginning. In addition our city is considered a food desert. I would highly recommend looking into the online platform Food Rescue US. That is the current platform we use. It allows organizations, donors, and community members to connect. The donor adds food and the system automatically connects it to a recipient (organization). Community members sign up for runs, so they become the ones doing the transportation of the food. I think it would beneficial for you to look at their systems and see what innovations you can make. If you ever would like to talk about the issues food banks face or how we utilize Food Rescue please reach out! Here is a link to our entry that explains what we do a little bit better as well, https://network.changemakers.com/challenge/tmochangemaker2019/community-review/jee-foods

Photo of Audrey Acken
Team

Hi Levi,

Thank you SO much for reaching out! Wow I am so impressed with what you guys have achieved with JEE Foods! And thank you for letting us know about Food Rescue! I'm going to check it out and would love to reach out some time to get all your expertise in this space. I'd love to get the insights and especially the challenges you guys still face using a platform like Food Rescue. This community has been so helpful I'm actually getting a lot of good ideas just from the comments. Here in the bay area there is this "invisible group" that suffers in food insecurity (https://www.sfchronicle.com/food/article/The-hidden-hungryA-Bay-Area-paradox-13379274.php). We are trying to design our programs around needs like this and I've been wondering if there are more efficient ways to leverage on-demand food delivery companies service. For example if kids are getting free lunches at school, is there a way for their families get grocery delivery or food supplement through partnerships with food banks, grocery stores, as well as delivery companies. We are excited to explore the opportunities and will focus our effort on solving the needs at scale.

Photo of Levi Grimm
Team

Hi Audrey,

Thank you for the response. I was in the bay area a few months back for business and seeing the issue nationwide really puts it into perspective. I'd be happy to have a call to discuss it further and potentially partner. Please reach out to lgrimm@jeefoods.org so we can set-up a time. Good luck!

Photo of Audrey Acken
Team

Hi Levi,

Thank you so much! Yes I'd love to reach out. I'm sure we can benefit a lot from your extensive experience and insights from running JEE Foods. I'll follow up with you via email soon. Thanks again - hopefully we can partner up in some way to make the work more impactful. Thank you again.

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