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

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

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Email

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
Spam
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

Spam
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.

Spam
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!

Spam
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.

Spam
Photo of Nikil Ragav
Team

This is cool - it's almost an "instacart" for excess food!

I think you are on the right track of a fundamental distribution issue - it's not really that food doesn't exist, it's that there's too much for some and not enough for others.

I'm curious how you will fund this (assuming you set it up as a nonprofit, I'm sure you can find donors. but will that be enough?). The delivery network can probably get expensive - maybe not too expensive if drivers only have to operate at a couple of times per day.

It makes total sense to target restaurants and organizations, a lot of them give away extra food to food banks at the end of the day already. For example, Panera donates all its extra bread to the local food bank (I don't think they donate fully assembled sandwiches though).

I like that you're interviewing the organizations so that you can create a format that will actually make sense for them and fit into their existing workflows.

Spam
Photo of Audrey Acken
Team

Hi Nikil,

Thanks for such thoughtful feedback! I also like the "instacart for excess food" analogy.

Regarding funding, we are still brainstorming. Sure setting up a nonprofit and looking for donation are some of the more obvious ideas. Lately though I've been thinking to partner up with existing companies that are already in the space, that already have the delivery networks... Instacart, Ubereats, Doordash, Postmate... perhaps work with their corporate charity initiatives, like each of these companies could have a .org that focuses on the food excess/insecurity issues. This would change our approach somewhat, because now we'll need to figure out how to fit our users' needs into these companies business models as well. Thanks so much for your feedback that got us thinking differently!

We are excited about this project because I feel we are taking a rather different approach in really looking at the problem from various users' points of view - the food service distributors (food banks, shelters, schools...), the suppliers (restaurants, caterers, grocery stores...), as well as people who live with food insecurity. We want to come up with a solution that truly addresses the issues and can help solve the problem at scale, and perhaps we'll end up with a business model that could be adopted by every organization and company that's "in the space".

Spam
Photo of Hannah Lucas
Team

Sounds like a great idea. You guys should check out what Goodr is doing and maybe build upon it. Best of luck!

Spam
Photo of Audrey Acken
Team

Thank you!

Spam
Photo of Sim Bilal
Team

Hey, Adrienne and Audrey. I really like your idea, you both seem very passionate about helping those less fortunate than yourselves. I think that meal mate is a really great way to address food insecurity. Which only seems to be growing every year. I like the tech focus as well because of the accessibility and its ability to connect people!
-Sim

Spam
Photo of Audrey Acken
Team

Thank you Sim! Yeah we are pretty excited about the idea and our approach. We want use technology and design thinking to target very specific issues in the space to make improvements.

Spam
Photo of Sim Bilal
Team

Brilliant!, If you ever need help with prototyping or app dev. Feel free to reach out!

Spam
Photo of Audrey Acken
Team

Thank you so much Sim for your support!! It'd be great to work together on this... We'll definitely reach out - it'd be great to expand to more regions once we have a better idea what works well.

Spam
Photo of Grace Messer
Team

Hi Audrey, I think this is a great way to help with food distribution.
Check out https://network.changemakers.com/challenge/tmochangemaker2019/community-review/my-supply-list/comments#c-5405068672a942f0884d1451fde6f360

She has a similar idea involving school supplies and organizations. Maybe you guys should chat!

Spam
Photo of Audrey Acken
Team

Hi Grace, thank you for your feedback and for letting us know about My Supply List! I saw that and yes there are quite a few Changemaker ideas focused on the ask & give side of things. In face we've worked on a prototype before for shelters that was also aimed at asking and donating... The idea of MealMate is specifically focused on food, and the particular challenges around food donations - fluctuating supply, lack of healthy choices and ethnic diversity. We really want to use technology and design thinking to address these challenges at scale. Thinking about building a Doordash or Uber Eats type of services for families/individuals, as well as food banks...

Spam
Photo of Grace Messer
Team

I love that you're focusing on food. Will it be available for individuals to donate through as well or is it just more restaurant, grocery, catering type things? I'm just wondering because growing up our fruit trees always produced way more than we could eat and so we would pick everything and donate it to a group called Waste Not. Would people with excess produce from their gardens and such be able to share it through the app? Currently people in my neighborhood just leave out a box that says 'free fruit' but it doesn't necessarily get to the people who actually need it.

Spam
Photo of Audrey Acken
Team

Yeah we'll definitely think it through with individual members as well... If we could build something that's the most convenient for individuals like your neighbors with excess fruit (at that location and at that moment), it'd solve the big challenge of convenience and efficiency. We'll have to think of solutions that's also feasible in terms of logistics, privacy and security... Another finding we have is that a lot of the people living with food insecurity (at least in the Bay Area) are not homeless or living in shelters. They are actually just low income families with jobs and housing. But because the high cost of living here, after all other expenses they don't have much left for food. One thought we have is that to support the families with students who are on free school lunch plans, we'll deliver excess grocery to them at school so that they could take home with them... We'll need to think through a lot of different situations, talk to all these different parties involved, and come up with something truly useful to really address the specific problems, for every one. Thank you so much for your feedback and thoughts - we are excited and feel supported :)

Spam
Photo of Grace Messer
Team

Yes totally!! In one of my classes in college we talked about the food desert and until then I had never really though about food accessibility in that way. Ugh, I love it. I can't wait to find out what you come up with!!

Spam
Photo of Joanna Liu
Team

This is an awesome and highly promising idea -- can't wait to see you girls carry this initiative out in the future!

Spam
Photo of Audrey Acken
Team

thank you Joanna <3