When Maria Rose Belding was 14, she saw expired food being discarded — while a line of hungry people waited to be fed — at a pantry in Philadelphia. The dichotomy made no sense to Belding, and the moment sparked her mission to minimize food waste and decrease hunger.
In college, Belding founded the MEANS Database, a nonprofit technology company that connects soup kitchens and homeless shelters with fresh food that would otherwise go to waste.
“MEANS was started with the belief it should be easy for those with excess food to share it with those in need,” according to its website.
The need for programs like MEANS is critical — the US throws away about a third of its food supplies every day. MEANS says that’s 133 billion pounds of food each year. But getting the food to communities lacking ease of access to healthy food choices is challenging.
“Most of our food is going to agencies less than two miles away in the same low-income communities, but the agencies have no way to transport it,” said Belding.
MEANS received a $20,000 grant in 2017 from the American Heart Association’s first annual EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator.™ The grant allowed the tech nonprofit to partner with Food Connect in Philadelphia to close the transportation gap that often prevents community organizations from accepting available food donations.
Belding said the Accelerator offered an important opportunity for underrepresented entrepreneurs to get an idea off the ground.
“No one knows a community better than a community knows itself,” she said. “Competitions like this put the advocacy philosophy of ‘nothing for us without us’ into practice.”