Growing up in rural Iowa, Maria Rose Belding felt called to help feed the hungry and volunteered in her church’s food pantry. Her experience sparked an idea that today helps provide more food to those in need while reducing food waste.
While working in the food pantry, Maria Rose regularly saw overstocks of food go to waste while other needed foods were not available. Once, the pantry received 10,000 boxes of macaroni and cheese that was near the expiration date. She saw how hard the pantry director worked to get the excess to other charities but Belding ultimately had to throw out much of the stock. She recognized the need for a better way to communicate availability.
Maria Rose was still in high school when she came up with the idea for an online database to connect food donors with food pantries and kitchens. During her freshman year at American University, she met a student with computer coding skills and the two designed MEANS – Matching Excess And Need for Stability – in 2014. This free online network connects thousands of food pantries, soup kitchens, and other non-profits with donors of surplus food. The donors include grocery stores, caterers, restaurants, and other food pantries across the country.
Currently in 49 states, the online and mobile-friendly database is reducing waste and getting more food to hungry people. Food charities can register and indicate the food they are interested in, where they are, and how far they will travel. If a matching food donation becomes available in the system, they immediately get an email and can claim that food. According to Maria Rose, food donated through MEANS finds a new home 95% of the time.
In December 2018, Maria Rose became the youngest woman featured as a CNN Hero of the Year, an award given to “everyday people changing the world,” and in 2019 received the George H.W. Bush Points of Light Award.
Maria Rose saw a problem and responded, impacting hungry Americans across the country, and showing what is possible when you open your mind and your heart and look for solutions. Learn more about MEANS at meansdatabase.org/