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UF Students Plan To Donate Surplus Food To Field And Fork Pantry

What if we could take the excess food from sorority and fraternity house dinners, package it up, and feed people in need?

That’s the question the winning team of University of Florida’s first annual Small Idea Competition asked at the Nov. 13 weekend event. Their answer? We can.

In a 90-second pitch, members of the "The Nikolas," Hali Lindsay, Juan Rivera, Vipul Mittal, Riley Richards and Danny Speagle delivered a detailed breakdown of how to deliver hot, packaged meals straight from sorority lunches to the Field and Fork Pantry on campus.

“We use leftovers at my sorority, but sometimes we have so much,” said Richards, a UF English junior and Masters of Science in Management student and member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority. “There’s no way we’d be able to eat all of it.”

Danny Speagle, a 50-year-old computer science student at Santa Fe College, said he was apprehensive about his team’s idea at first. “I’m actually homeless,” he said. “So it hit close to home. But they were hell bent on it so I went with it.” He said once he shared his situation, he was relieved and thought it helped his team’s pitch.

“I actually went to Field and Fork yesterday to get some soup,” he said. The team will talk with the pantry about how to make their idea come to fruition, he said.

Richards said she thinks the idea is feasible and hopes to start work with the pantry in the spring. The food available at food banks is often “not food that is nutritious or not food that people actually want to eat,” said winning team member Mittal, a computer science master’s student. "And a lot of times when you are hungry, the pantry won’t be open."

Participants at the Small Idea Competition registered either as “idea generators” or “problem solvers” and were assigned to groups and asked to come up with a solution to a pressing problem chosen from a list of topics.

“I just signed up as an individual,” Mittal said. “I was interested in talking to new people and learning how to change the way we live for the better.”

About 40 competed in the two-day bootcamp hosted by Gator Innovators in collaboration with The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and The Entrepreneurship Club, where they gained inspiration from speakers such as David Whitney, UF’s Entrepreneur in Residence, and William "Red Dog" Martin, Global Interactive Media Entrepreneur at Procter & Gamble, before they began brainstorming.

"It was an iterative process," Speagle said. "We would focus on only one part and then move on to next."

The purpose of this structure was to introduce new entrepreneurs to the environment of pitch competitions, Speagle said. It taught them how to process small ideas incrementally to solve big problems.

Told to pick one topic, Speagle’s team chose hunger. Then they realized they could use another category to solve the first: surplus food. They proposed boxing up the excess food from sorority and fraternity houses at the end of mealtime and transporting it to the Field and Fork Pantry on the UF campus.

Richards said the idea would be to form “Lunch Pail” cohorts and collaborate between Greek life and organizations to determine who would deliver food at certain times.

While Gainesville food banks such as Bread of the Mighty Food Bank or Gainesville Community Ministry provide free meals for community members, they do so off campus, during times when students are usually in class.

Using a convenient on-campus bank like Field and Fork Food Pantry would allow students in need to grab a hot meal on the go in between classes, without the struggle of riding a bus or waiting until classes end. Nikolas' plan is to have the meals packaged so they can be picked up and taken home to eat even when Field and Fork is not open, said Mittal.

“We recognize that some people who use The Pantry will have a chronic need for food while others may only have a temporary need that may not be reflected in a financial statement of need,” Field and Fork Food Pantry stated on its website. “We will trust that guests will use The Pantry only when they have a need to use the service.”

According to Feeding America, one in every six Americans are deemed food insecure by the nation’s largest hunger-relief nonprofit and needs services like the food pantry. That number is even higher in Alachua County, according to local charity leaders. The winning team hopes its small idea will be implemented to help solve this.

The first annual Small Idea Competition is the step-child of UF’s more well known Big Idea Gator Business Plan Competition run by the business college, which awards up to $5,000 in funds for incubation of the winning ideas. The Small Idea Competition allows people without established companies to pitch in a less competitive environment.

“It was a Saturday so it was kind of hard to get up, but I’m happy I did,” said Richards. “I got so much out of it. and I hope UF gets something out of it, too.”

Erin is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.