Good People Doing Good Things — Maria Rose Belding

Yes, I do realize it is Sunday morning, and yes, I do realize that “good people” is a Wednesday feature.  Further, I realize that there are three days between Sunday and Wednesday and that I have no earthly right to jump three whole days ahead with the good people post.  Yes, I realize there are rules, and they must be followed … protocols that ought not to be breached.  I know all of that … but guys?  I can’t take any more of the other stuff right now.  I need a break.  I need to be reminded … and just maybe you do too … that the world is not filled with evil, greed and hatred.

Maria Rose Belding grew up working in her church’s food pantry in her small Iowa hometown.  She also grew up being bullied, being shoved into lockers, physically threatened and told she should kill herself to make the world a better place.

But Maria had other ideas …

As she got older, Belding realized that feeding the hungry wasn’t as easy as it should be. The pantry’s shelves overflowed with some items while other foods were desperately needed.Maria Rose.jpgIn 2009, when she was 14, the pantry received a huge donation of macaroni and cheese that was more than the community could use, and she saw how hard it was to contact other charities that could take it.  Months later, she had to throw away hundreds of expired boxes as people waited in line for food.

“I remember just crying and being so angry. There was nothing that really allowed us to communicate in an efficient way. … The Internet was right in front of us!”

Belding had stumbled upon two problems that still plague the U.S. food system. According to the USDA, more than 40 million Americans don’t regularly have enough to eat while up to 40% of the country’s food supply is wasted.

In high school, she developed an idea for an online database that could solve both problems, but she didn’t have the programming skills to make it work. After graduating, she met Grant Nelson, a law student who was writing code on his laptop.

About nine months later, during Belding’s freshman year at American University, they launched MEANS, a free online platform that connects businesses with extra food to charities that feed the hungry.

Run largely by high school and college students, the nonprofit has helped redistribute more than 1.8 million pounds of food since 2015.

“Too often, grocery stores and restaurants find themselves throwing out food when there is great need in nearby communities. MEANS aims to make it easier to donate food than throw it in the dumpster. … We’re like a bridge that hasn’t existed before.”

Recently Ms. Belding was interviewed by CNN … here is a bit from that interview:

CNN: What does MEANS stand for, and how does it work?

Maria Rose Belding: MEANS is an acronym that stands for Matching Excess And Need for Stability; 14-year-old me had a fondness for acronyms.

It’s pretty simple. If you want to get food from MEANS, you have to be registered as a legal charity in the United States. So, when a soup kitchen, homeless shelter or a food pantry needs something, they tell our system. And when a grocery store, caterer or food retailer has something they want to donate, all they have to do is go online and say, “This is where I am, this is what I’ve got, and this is when I need it gone by.” Then the system automatically notifies all of those who have said, “I need things within these parameters.” We’re able to match up excess and need very, very quickly. At this point, MEANS has about 3,000 partners in 48 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The Emerson Act — a ‘Good Samaritan’ law passed in 1996 — protects donors from liability.

We’re also part of a great partnership with the Rhode Island Health Department called Rhode to End Hunger, which encourages businesses to donate food to nonprofits. One of the shining stars of that is the Twin River Casino. They’ll post hundreds of pounds of food, and somebody in Providence — like McAuley House, which is feeding a lot of folks who are struggling — will claim it really fast. The average in Rhode Island is about 10 minutes for things to move.

CNN: What are some of the most unusual donations you’ve had?

Belding: We’ve got all these awesome stories. People think, “Oh, no one’s going to want that” — we can prove you wrong. We have had 50 pounds of squab — which is fancy baby pigeon — from a five-star restaurant in Seattle. That ended up being used in pork and beans — apparently it was a big hit. We’ve found home for 250 pounds of rutabagas, 11,000 pounds of green beans, 42,000 pounds of milk. We’ll find a home for it 95% of the time. The average amount of time it takes for food to be claimed is half an hour. Our record is two minutes and 37 seconds.

You’d think the novelty would wear off — nope! In our office, every time you see a donation go live on our admin panel, and then you see somebody has claimed it, you’re like, “It worked!” When you see food move, you know that that’s people getting to eat that maybe wouldn’t have been able to — or maybe they’re getting to eat better than they would have. You’re also keeping food from going to landfills. It’s just great for everybody.

CNN: How do you balance running MEANS with being a full-time student?

Belding: Pretty much everybody on our staff is running between classes, labs and work. Our original office was split between my co-founder Grant’s apartment and the basement of my freshman year dorm. Now we’re in the American University Center for Innovation, and this semester my physics class was down the hall, so I literally ran there a minute before class started.

I actually took a year off to devote myself to MEANS full time. Now I am a rising senior and will graduate next May with my pre-medical requirements met. I’m definitely not having a normal college experience. I’ve never been to a Greek life event, I’m not in any clubs, and I know I would have a much better G.P.A. if I wasn’t doing this. But this is more important than me.

What makes it worth it is knowing that we’re building something that matters a lot more than we do.

Wow … what a special young lady, don’t you think?  Check out their website, especially the awesome team of young people who make this all work.

I hope you can all forgive me for jumping the gun on the ‘good people’ post, and I really hope you enjoyed this breath of fresh air as much as I did.  Tough times, my friends … but as long as there are people like Maria Rose Belding out there, there will always be hope for humanity.  Hugs!

33 thoughts on “Good People Doing Good Things — Maria Rose Belding

  1. Dear Jill,

    Maria Rose Belding is an outstanding star who will be a superstar after she graduates college. She has already contributed more to her community than many college grads have done.

    Her idea of matching on line, the needs of food pantries for the poor with businesses which need to unload food items was nothing less than brilliant.

    Thank you for this spot of good news in a deary time of Trump news.

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “A single ordinary person can still make a difference, and single ordinary people are doing precisely that every day.” – Chris Bohjalian. A wondrous story of an ordinary person doing extraordinary things! As a Rhode Islander, I was aware of Rhode to End Hunger and the connection with Twin River Casino. I did not know about MEANS or their partnership with them. Thank-you for this lovely Swensday post!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. People thinking outside the box make the world better for everyone. And the youth of the world are the ones most likely to do this. We older folk try, but we are so used to our boxes, no matter how big they might be, that these things just don’t occur to us. Three cheers for all those “horrible young people who never do anything good for themselves, or us!”
    Youth, with fresh approaches to the world’s problems, can look where others fear to tread. “Keep it up, guys and girls, the end of the world is not today!”

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are so right! We older people, even when our heart is in the right place, have become so used to our boxes, as you say, that we can only move stuff around within them sometimes, rather than turning them upside down, stepping out and imagining all the possibilities. I especially liked when she said she could have had a higher GPA if she wasn’t doing this, but that this was more important.

      Like

  4. Jill, this is truly outstanding. Maria is solving two problems with an elegant solution. It is also replicable in other places. I applaud her efforts and ingenuity. Thanks for sharing, Keith

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s awesome to know! And did you read Colette’s comment about the grocery stores helping people out? I think that is just wonderful … I wish they did that here … it would help the less fortunate AND cut down on wasted food!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great thinking young lady.

    While the UK has foodbanks, and there are families here who need handouts, Supermarkets here tend to reduce the price of end date foods to mere pennies and huge fractions of their former price. Everyone here, who is trying to keep their food budget at rock bottom prices, knows that they can go to a supermarket a couple of hours before closing and buy bread, milk, cheese, ready meals, meat, fish, vegetables and fresh produce at knock down ridiculous prices. All the supermarket staff go around hunting for end dates with their pricing guns in hand. The food is still fresh enough to eat, can be cooked and frozen if needing to be stored, and gives poorer people cheap meals and cuts out waste and landfill costs for supermarkets. Everybody wins.
    Food banks have their place, but donations do tend to be of the less nutritious type, so a poor family doesn’t always get fresh, whole foods.

    Liked by 3 people

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