When UC Berkeley student Komal Ahmad invited a homeless man to lunch three years ago, she was inspired to create an app that would change the lives of hundreds of thousands living on the streets.
When the man asked her for money for food, she took him to lunch instead and learned of his time as a soldier in Iraq. “He’d already gone on two deployments and now he’s come back, he’s 26 and on the side of the road begging for food,” Ahmad said. “It just blew my mind.”
Shortly after her experience, she began an initiative at Berkeley to donate uneaten food from the university’s dining halls to local homeless shelters. The program was so successful that in three years, it has spread to over 140 colleges around the country.
Excess food wastage is a serious problem in the United States. Americans throw out more food than plastic, paper, metal and glass, and in 2012 (the most recent year with available data), Americans threw out over 35 million tons of food. Meanwhile, 1 in 6 Americans goes hungry every year.
As Ahmad said, excess food waste is “literally the world’s dumbest problem.” She noted that “Hunger is bad – it’s terrible everywhere – but in America, in the most prosperous, industrialized country in the world, this just shouldn’t exist.”
In 2013, Ahmad, now 25, launched a phone app to encourage private companies and event planners to donate extra food. Feeding Forward is a not-for-profit service that allows users to arrange—on-demand— for Feeding Forward drivers to pick up leftover food and deliver it directly to areas and people that need it most. In San Francisco, the app has helped feed over 575,000 homeless people by redistributing nearly 690,000 pounds of excess food.
As Ahmad told the New York Daily News,
We need to figure out how to establish sustainable solutions that can distribute the food we already have faster and get it to people who need it faster and safely.
Ahmad is doing just that. Since her story was featured on CNET last Sunday, she says she has received thousands of messages from people around the world eager to participate. “I didn’t expect it to blow up…People as far as Nairobi, Bangalore and Hong Kong have wrote us asking us to expand Feeding Forward to their cities and countries. They’re like, ‘Tell me what I can do to get it here,’” she said.
Though Ahmad’s app is now one of the most successful tools for feeding the homeless, her effort is part of a growing movement to solve hunger and problems of food wastage. As CNET summarized,
On-demand food delivery service Munchery, founded in 2010, donates its excess meals to food banks in the Bay Area. An app called LeftoverSwap, created by a pair of entrepreneurs two years ago, helps people give away their leftovers to strangers. And the Food Cowboy app, founded in 2012, gets surplus food from wholesalers and restaurants and delivers it to soup kitchens.
While homeless people often endure persecution from authorities, increased private and popular efforts are working to change the landscape. It is profoundly impressive that a young woman could foster such tangible effects in her community, but perhaps more inspiring is the global support she has received for her work—showing that in a world filled with greed, hate, and negativity, there is still hope for generosity, compassion, and a brighter future.
To learn more about Ahmad’s innovative project and take part or donate, visit FeedingForward.com.