How's this for smart? A team of students from Washington University in St. Louis has come up with a plan to tackle food insecurity by turning underused U.S. post offices into food distribution centers.
Called, "First Class Meal," the proposal won the annual Urban SOS: Fair Share Student Competition last month. The team, made up of graduate students Anu Samarajiva, Irum Javed, Lanxi Zhang, and faculty advisor Linda Samuels, presented a simple idea: Repurpose post offices already scheduled to fold and harness the power of postal system infrastructure to collect and distribute food in food deserts.
"We kind of had this realization that the post office still touches us all," Samarajiva told Smithsonian magazine. "It has this incredible network and connection to all of us as citizens, but it's just what is it delivering now, how is it connecting us now?"
So, how would it work exactly? Underutilized post offices in food desserts would serve as food pantries or hubs, collecting surplus food items from grocery stores and markets, storing them, and distributing them to families without access to transportation. As for manpower, the team suggests the added work be performed by volunteers from food service organizations.
The first stop? The team is banking on California's Los Angeles County, which is reportedly the most food-insecure county in the country with 1.5 million people who are food insecure. An indication of the impact of this venture can be seen last year when 4,232 USPS district members in L.A. collected 1,523,525 pounds of food in a day.
"It's just ridiculous in a country that is as resource-rich as we are," Samarajiva told the Guardian. "The issue isn't a lack of food or a lack of resources, but of distribution, pickup, and logistics."
The USPS already delivers groceries to doorsteps, so why not use that ability to better lives?