Fighting Hunger at Lisgar

Students Develop Foodlocker App for Teens in Need

By ALIYA FRENDO

This school year, over a third of Ottawa Food Bank users will be teenagers. That’s a reality that most Lisgar students don’t see. In our school community, hunger may be hidden, but food insecurity doesn’t discriminate. It affects everyone.

For the past year, a team of five Grade 11 students at Lisgar Collegiate, myself among them, have been trying to help change this reality. We have recently launched an app on the Google Play store that helps students at their school who are food insecure get healthy meals at the click of a button. We call it FoodLocker.

“Studies show that nowadays, even the kids who can’t afford food on a regular basis have a mobile phone. We’ve decided to create a modern-day solution to the age-old problem of hunger,” says Emily Yu, our head coder.

We designed the new app with the aim of allowing food insecure students to have free food delivered directly to an empty locker in their high school. The app also allows students to choose from different types of “food boxes” that are curated to their needs, making their food choices more personal. The FoodLocker app makes use of unused lockers throughout a high school, using them as pick-up and drop-off locations for food. “The locker system keeps it very discreet”, says Clara Schryer, a member of the FoodLocker’s development team. “That’s a huge priority for our users.”

The use of technology also facilitates features that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional food bank, such as confidentiality. The students never have to disclose any personal information on the app. FoodLocker caters specifically to the needs of high school students, which means that most of the food is easy to eat on-the-go and doesn’t require any cooking. We have also put a large emphasis on making sure food boxes are healthy and nutritious. Students are able to order a box whenever they need it and pick it up right at school. “We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for students to get fed – that’s the end goal”, says designer Maggie Abbott. “There is no program quite like FoodLocker.”

So how does it really work? If a student is in need, a school guidance counsellor will give them an access code to enter into the app. When a user orders food, a student volunteer gets a notification and goes to deliver the box. When broken down, it’s a pretty simple process – all of it made easier by technology.

I came up with the idea for FoodLocker when I went off to summer camp and realized some of my friends couldn’t always afford food back home. I realized that this problem must exist in my community too, and so I entered high school with the intention of helping those people. The idea merged with technology when I entered Technovation, a program which teaches girls how to code; I built up my team there, and we’re still working together to this day. FoodLocker was awarded First Place in the Ottawa Technovation Competition.

Since then, our team has received two startup grants, one of which is from our very own Lisgar Alumni Association. This crucial money is used for buying locks and launching the app, but is mostly dedicated to the purchasing of fresh food. In the future, we’re looking to get a sustainable supply of food from grocery stores, collecting food which would otherwise be wasted because it is nearing its expiry date or is aesthetically damaged. However, our team isn’t restricting itself to just providing food. In new app updates, sanitary products, school supplies, and healthy recipes have been added as options for students.

Next year, the team has their eyes set on expanding the program to other schools. “The goal is to help as many youth as possible,” says Maggie Abbott. “We’ve had schools in Ottawa and throughout the country approach us and ask if they could install FoodLocker at their school. With the experience we’ve gained will have gained at Lisgar, I think we could really make a difference throughout the city.”

In the midst of all this innovation, a few questions have yet to be answered. Will FoodLocker be a success? Where will this innovation lead? But one must also be aware of the more pressing questions at stake. For example, can a teenager ever really be full? Perhaps our team will find the answer.

To learn more about the FoodLocker program, contact us at foodlockerse@gmail.com.

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