An Iowa State University researcher and his team have been working over the past several years to fight hunger and food waste in Iowa through the development of a software program that simplifies both food donation and feeding the hungry.
Over the last year, the team has made strides in releasing the software and registering it in Iowa as a nonprofit entity based in Ames.
According to Sugam Sharma, the researcher leading the efforts, the idea came to him shortly after he came to the United States from India. He had always been aware and interested in the issue of hunger, but he was troubled when he realized how many people went without food and how much food goes to waste.
“I saw in the news that somewhere in Iowa, there were children who don’t have food at home,” he said. “I wanted to learn about hunger for a long, long time, but there was a turning point when I decided I should start thinking about something to do, to help people who don’t have enough food.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. is wasted. That is roughly 400 pounds of food wasted annually for every American. Meanwhile, in Story County alone, nearly 15 percent of people were considered food insecure in 2017, according to data from Feeding America.
Sharma, an Ames resident since 2009, decided he wanted to become part of the solution. He put together a team of about four people and started developing a way to divert excess food to those in need. The software, eFeed-Hungers, does just that.
The research-led, information sharing start-up, which was first reported by the Tribune in March 2018, connects food pantries or free food sites to people in need in real-time.
“People who really don’t have food, they understand the importance of any kind of food. Every food is important for them to survive,” Sharma said. “I wanted to do something for the Ames community and around.”
It consists of an interactive map where donors — whether they’re grocery stores, restaurants, churches or food pantries with excess food — post what is available online. An icon appears on the map, where users can see the location and get information on what food is available.
It also can show users public locations where they can donate their own excessive food, such as food pantries and food banks that are currently open, while also directing those who need food to where they can find it.
As of now, it is being primarily used in Ames and Story City. He hopes people throughout Iowa will begin using the now fully-functional program. It is currently limited to Iowa, but Sharma said the goal is to expand to other cities and regions in the future.
Local organizations, including Mid-Iowa Community Action, The SHOP Food Pantry and Good Neighbor Emergency Assistance, have already begun utilizing the software.
“I just hope that people get benefit out of it,” Sharma said. “It hope it will help to ensure that food will go to needy people rather than in the garbage or in the trash.”