This week, two American University students were recognized by President Obama for their volunteer work with the nonprofit MEANS Database (MEANS) diverting food from landfills into the hands of the people who need it nationwide. Maria Rose Belding, a College of Arts and Sciences student, is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of MEANS, and School of Communication strategic communication student Zoey Jordan Salisbury is the Director of Communications.
Both women received the President's Volunteer Service Award, which bestows recognition from the President of the United States for their hundreds of hours of service over a 12-month time period or cumulative hours over the course of a lifetime. Belding received the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, for individuals who complete 4,000 or more hours in their lifetime. Salsbury received the Gold Award, for young adults who complete 250+ hours in a year.
MEANS is a website that allows grocery stores, restaurants, and businesses to easily donate excess food to food pantries and other groups feeding the hungry. When groups have food to donate, they post to the website and nearby emergency feeding systems are notified instantly.
Belding says "I grew up volunteering at my local food pantry, and I was often the youngest person there. The church dumpster was outside and taller than me, and I didn't want some of the older volunteers to brave the icy walk in the winter, so I often threw items away. I had seen our food pantry director go extraordinary lengths to find homes for the foods I was trashing, and I realized this wasn't a problem with our management. This was a systemic issue, and we needed better tools to communicate."
Salsbury got involved with MEANS by accident, but says that the work she does for MEANS is the most rewarding thing in her life. “I’ve volunteered at my local food bank, but I never understood the scale of hunger until I worked with MEANS. The most meaningful experience was when we got a donation to a family of six who had zero food in the house.”
Since its creation, a year and a half ago, MEANS has rescued food nationwide. They have users in 42 states and DC, who represent more than 4,000 partner agencies.