TEMPE, AZ — While the economy is slowly getting back up and running, nearly 460,000 Arizonans are still having trouble buying their next meal.
That is why an Arizona State University team is using their knowledge of logistics to reach neighborhoods in need.
Every Tuesday, Amazon delivery drivers volunteer their time, loading up food from United Food Bank and driving to Roosevelt Elementary School in Mesa. ASU students then give the bags of food to families as they pick up their children from school.
It helps parents like Heidi Smith, a single foster mom of two.
"It helps cut some of the cost with food," she said. "And then if we're short on vegetables and stuff like that."
A supply chain management lecturer at the W.P. Carey School of Business, Katy Keane, says it's a system built by students looking to solve logistical challenges some food banks face. She says students found there are limited hours at smaller food banks surrounding the school.
“We started researching and trying to determine where was the biggest need,” Keane said. "Nothing’s open after 5 p.m. These people work one or two jobs, or they have childcare, or they don’t have transportation."
The ASU students say they even created an app making it easier and faster for families to check in before receiving food.
"Why not use the concept of education to help make a difference?" said ASU student Shakki Bhat, who regularly helps at the site.
They say if there's anyone out there looking to set up a pop-up site, they are willing to show them how it's done.
"It can be replicated by any group, as long as there is a food bank or food pantry involved," Keane said.
“It’s still a prevalent problem just amplified by the COVID pandemic, and it’s still something we need to address at the end of the day," said Bhat.
Reaching people where they are
Tyson Nansel with United Food Bank says a lack of volunteers is part of the reason for limited hours at some of the smaller food pantries around the area.
"Sometimes a lot of our churches only provide food on a Saturday or a Sunday. Again, with limited hours. Not stretching all day, but a few hours that they're open," Nansel said. "It can be a struggle if I'm a working person or part-time on a fixed income even or even with transportation. So, being able to have more pop-up spots to have food provided at different times and different locations is just very helpful."
President of the Arizona Food Bank Network Angie Rodgers says they are looking to fill those gaps in the community.
"If we have communities where we don't have a pantry or that pantry may not be open the most convenient hours for that community, we want to have conversations with the community about what their needs are. How we can better serve them?" Rodgers said. "If they have a grocery store in that community, what's the best way to help get them to that grocery store. It may not just be providing an emergency food response."
Rodgers says they are partnering with more government programs, and she wants to remind families there are additional options available.
"Making sure families have access to SNAP right now, with an additional 15% bonus in their dollars each month," Rodgers said. "Making sure that children are aware that they can go to schools and get free school meals right now and through the end of the school year in 2022."