AU students receive President’s Service Award
MEANS database founder and staff are honored for community service
Two AU students were recently awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award for their work as members of the non-profit online database MEANS.
Juniors Maria Rose Belding, the founder of MEANS, and Zoey Jordan Salsbury, director of public communications for the database, were awarded the honors in a ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial on May 20. Belding was specifically awarded the Lifetime Achievement award, which recognizes individuals who have completed 4,000 or more community service hours in an individual's lifetime.
MEANS, which stands for Matching Excess And Need, is an online database that tracks food sharing between food banks. The database became a reality during Belding’s freshman year at AU in February of 2015. During this time, the founding members, Belding and Grant Nelson, established the first online database for food bank sharing in an effort to combat the massive food waste and shortages in the United States.
The President’s Service Award is awarded by the Corporation for National and Community Service to individuals who make extreme contributions through service work. MEANS is currently a certifying organization for the award. It presents data on the hours volunteers have worked at food banks to determine if they qualify for any of the national service awards.
Beldin said she was in a state of disbelief, yet incredibly humbled when she received the award.
“I remember looking at [the award], thinking, ‘Ok, but is this actually for me though, ok but are you sure, are you sure you want to do this for me?’” Beldin said. “I was blown away, I really was, I just cried. It is just a really phenomenal, cool thing.”
MEANS allows any individual to reserve food from food banks as it becomes available through the online database. Notifications of new products currently available are updated as they become available at specific locations.
Currently, MEANS is operating in 40 states, with partnership outreach growing constantly. Belding is consistently working to ensure that the non-profit reaches as many communities as possible, with the motto of “Waste Less, Feed More.”
Belding developed the concept of MEANS based on her work in food pantries in Pella, Iowa during high school. As a community volunteer, she witnessed the gap in communication that aggravated the food waste situation in her area. Food stored within the bank often expired before it reached people in need because of lack of organization.
For example, Belding said that the head of the food pantry where she worked, Pella Community Food Shelf, usually tried to call other food banks for assistance. The problem was that the list did not include updated phone numbers. Simply finding working numbers for food banks has been the largest difficulty in establishing MEANS, which further aggravates the food shortage issue, according to Belding.
Belding said it is crucial in understanding that individuals who are going hungry need to be able to obtain accurate information to receive meals.
“It is a pretty demoralizing day when you call 20 numbers and literally none of them are food pantries, or nobody answers,” Belding said. “As frustrating as that is for us, there’s really only one other group of people who are calling food pantries, that is the people who need them.”
Belding’s hope is to encourage individuals to consider the decisions they make that impacts food waste. Instead of discarding food, Belding encourages people to either reduce the amount of food waste they make, or donate the unused portions of their food.
“Long term, I want MEANS to help change how we think about food waste,” Belding said. “I want MEANS to be part of this movement that we are seeing where the default is to donate.”
Belding took a gap year this past year in order to focus on the non-profit’s development, simply due to the extreme hours required at a startup. It also helped her achieve the requisite 4,000 hours for the award. She plans to return to school in the spring of 2017.
Belding credits the organization’s success to the approximately 20 staff members’ common commitment to community service.
“MEANS people are just phenomenal,” Belding said. “I have incredible amounts of respect for what they do, what they have done. They are some of my best friends. I can count on them for anything. I learned so much about who I am as a person from them. I am that person, because of them. I cannot imagine them not being a part of my life.”
For the future direction of MEANS, Belding’s intent is to foster relationships in the food industry, which will allow food to move easier and more frequently to those in need.
“I want to move more food, in more places more often,” Belding said. “I want to start seeing food move every day in more and more cities.”