Share Meals: An Overview
Inspired by an anonymous confession from a college student who only had $25 to feed himself for two weeks in the expensive New York City, Share Meals was created as a resource for food insecure students to receive food swipes from those that may have extra food swipes remaining at the end of the semester. It is a great way to bring together two students who potentially do not know each other and allows them to get to know each other over a meal, while also solving the problem of food insecurity and food waste at the same time. No longer do students have to worry about how they will be able to afford their next meal, and dining halls throw away less food, the food that would have otherwise been thrown away because of the ridiculous number of unused meal swipes.
Share Meals aims to simultaneously end food waste and hunger on the college campus. College is not a place where students should have to worry about how they will afford their next meal or whether or not they will have to go to sleep with their stomachs rumbling that night; it’s a place for students to study and make the best out of their educations. Share Meals alleviates the problem of hunger so that students have one less thing to worry about.
A significant amount of food is thrown away at college events because the event organizers often order extra in order to ensure that there is enough for everybody. With the launch of the new Share Meals app, users will now be able to drop pins at their location. For example, if there was a university event and they have leftover food, they can drop a pin and it will appear on the map to everyone using the app. This way, rather than having to throw away leftover food, the event organizers can give the food away to students who may be hungry at the time.
One of Share Meals’ goals is to track the consumption habits of its users. The supply and demand already shows that there are both people who are in need of food swipes, as well as students that have excessive food swipes. In the first week of its launch alone, there were 400 swipes donated, which leads us to believe that students were not able to properly track their usage and were left with unused nonrefundable meal swipes at the end of the semester. Once Share Meals has the data of the usage of meal swipes, it can give recommendations to students about how to track their usage better. This will result in increased consumption at the dining halls, which will throw away less food, as well as allow students to focus on their work rather than worrying about staying hungry.
The User Journey Map
#sharemeals is an online platform that connects students who are food insecure with free food, whether it's from fellow students with extra meal swipes or from leftover university catered events.
Our Ideal User
Francis is doing a PhD program at New York University, where she researches synthetic antibiotics to use against the Zika virus.
Because she spends most of her time in the lab, she can only work part time as a babysitter and is on a limited budget. She often has trouble finding enough to eat and sometimes can't concentrate on her research.
On Tuesday, she has an hour break for lunch but has only a few dollars to last her the rest of the week. She's budget conscious and cooks at home as much as she can, but still has trouble making her food budget last the week.
Francis pulls out her smartphone and opens up the Share Meals App. Immediately, she sees that there are 2 club events in the same building that are hosting catered events. One is for Women in STEM, a club she's been meaning to checkout anyway. However, it doesn't start for another hour. The other is for an environmental justice organization, showing a screener on smallholder farms in Africa, but she would have to leave in the middle of it and doesn't want to disturb the other club members.
Francis notices there's another student, Shahid, at the student union, a 5 minute walk away. Shahid has extra meal swipes that he knows he's not using so he put up a notice on Share Meals. Francis reads through his profile: Shahid's a freshman studying English literature who's originally from California. Francis used to love the humanities but doesn't have much time for it these days; she wonders what doing a degree in that is like so she sends him a message: "Hey :) want to grab lunch?"
Breaking the Ice
Shahid is studying when he gets the message on his laptop; he has Share Meals open in another tab in his browser while he finishes some reading for his poetry workshop. He reads through Francis's profile and is intrigued by her research; he replies almost immediately: "For sure! Meet me here in 5 minutes?"
Shahid swipes Francis into the dining hall and they grab two trays of food. Francis is particular to get salad vegetables and complex grains; They grab a booth by the window and start eating. Shahid is still a little shy so Francis asks the first question: "What were you reading back there?"
"Oh, nothing. Just a little Emerson."
"Is it for a class?"
"Yes. But honestly, I would read him anyway. The way he describes our fundamental relationship with nature is so poweful."
"Yeah, we don't get much nature here. Concrete jungle, right?"
They continue to talk about their shared experience as New Yorkers and their unique experience coming from different home states. He asks about the quinoa that Francis has piled on her plate and he tries a bit. He'd like it better with hot sauce.
After lunch, Shahid goes back to finish studying and Francis returns to her lab. A few days later, she messages him on Share Meals again and sends him information about a scholarship opportunity with a small note: "if you're interested, I can put a good word in with the selection committee. I babysit for them sometimes :)" Shahid and Francis continue to chat and meet every few days for lunch.
Francis is able to continue finding food resources to keep her fed paycheck to paycheck. She makes friends and network opportunities, and is finally able to attend a few Women in STEM meetings. Her university receives statistics from Share Meals quantifying and analyzing the need for better hunger intervention among their student body. In one semester, they roll out a new consulting program in the health center, new guidelines for leftover dining hall ingredients, and increase funding for the community garden.
updates(feedback and current status)
Share Meals has been accepted to NYU's Campus Coding Collaborative, with up to $3,000 in funding, other resources, and mentorship.
We've been exploring several resources at New York University to help us refine our idea. We've identified 3 primary user segments, what our value proposition to them is, and how we will generate revenue from them. Our largest breakthrough is understanding the key relationship with universities.
The national discussion is currently centered around food insecurity data. There have been a handful of research papers released so far, but many of them are deeply flawed. Without this objective data, large institutions like universities, government agencies, and NGOs are unlikely to move. This has been our experience talking with administrators at NYU, the University of Hawaii, and elsewhere; they need to know the scope of the problem before they can act.
Our primary focus will remain the same: to provide students with a real time map of food resources, whether it's from other students or from leftover event catering. Our breakthrough is the establishment of a secondary focus: to gather, analyze, and report on food insecurity data. This will be done through the Share Meals App interface. To give an idea of the potential impact, a recent survey from the Wisconsin Hope Lab had only 300+ respondents, a factor which calls its validity into question. Had Share Meals incorporated a survey into our user onboarding process, we would have 2,000+ respondents by now. We are also looking to either expand our team to include data scientists or expand our team's competencies by learning data science analysis to make meaningful sense of these potential statistcs. By providing universities with these reports, we'll be able to inform their food production, food waste, and food recovery policies. While the app provides an immediate solution to hunger, the data it gathers will fuel sustainable solutions as well.
We are currently in the process of interviewing key administrators across universities to identify if they know the current hunger statistics on their students and, if not, what their current goals are to find these out.
On the app side, we are still refining the core functionality. We've researched similar apps that are being released / have been released; none seem to exhibit the expertise needed to execute this idea properly. For example, the Swipes app from Columbia University was buggy on release, missing several key features like push notifications. We are examining their critical weaknesses to inform our development further. We have conducted some user interviews with our beta version and have generally positive feedback. We presented at the NYC Media Lab 2016; several of the attendees loved our idea and found the app experience mostly intuitive. There were a few design elements that weren't obvious, such as phrasings and visuals.