Who she is: Maria Rose Belding, 24, co-launched and runs MEANS, an online platform connecting businesses that have surplus food with pantries and soup kitchens that need it. MEANS stands for Matching Excess and Need for Stability, a name Maria Rose came up with as a teenager while volunteering in her Pella, Iowa, church’s food pantry. She graduated from American University in May 2019 and plans to go to med school.
What she does: Maria Rose had seen firsthand the difficulties that pantries have connecting with food donors. Many pantries lack landlines or listed phone numbers. If only there was a way to make the connection online, she thought. As a freshman in college, she met a student who knew computer coding. The two of them designed the MEANS online messaging portal in 2014. The nonprofit, run largely by volunteer high school and college students, serves more than 3,000 pantries and soup kitchens across the United States that have signed up for the free service.
Why she does it: Maria Rose was inspired by a sermon her minister gave on Matthew 25:35. Those words, “For I was hungry and you gave me food,” spoke directly to her. She was already volunteering at the pantry, but now it felt like something more, a way of directly serving God. One day, another church donated 10,000 boxes of mac and cheese nearing their expiration date. The pantry director spent hours trying to reach pantries around the state looking to share, but Maria Rose ultimately tossed hundreds of boxes in the dumpster. “It felt so wrong,” she says.
How she does it: MEANS works almost like a dating app. Pantries and soup kitchens check off the types of food they are looking for. When a grocery or other donor in the area posts an item that’s a match, a message instantly goes out. The first organization to respond gets the donor’s contact info. The system has found a home for onetime donations of 250 pounds of rutabagas, 11,000 pounds of green beans, 42,000 pounds of milk. Even 50 pounds of squab—baby pigeon—donated by a five-star restaurant in Seattle. (“Apparently it goes great in pork and beans,” Maria Rose says.) On average it takes less than one hour to make a match. Once a connection is made, the donor and the pantry work out the delivery details.
How you can do it: If you run a food pantry or a business that has surplus food, you can sign up for MEANS at meansdatabase.org. Or contact the director of your local pantry to ask what foods they need. “Some 46 million people get food assistance, and yet we throw away 30 percent of our food,” Maria Rose says. “We currently reach almost 7 percent of America’s pantries and soup kitchens, but we want to get them all.”
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