The Student-Run Venture Redirecting Excess Food to Those Who Need it

by Greg Lovegrove

Sammie Paul, COO MEANS Database (Greg Lovegrove / American University)

During her freshman year at American University, Sammie Paul met Maria Rose Belding while working on a project based around homelessness in D.C. Shortly before they met, Belding had created the MEANS Database that would provide a platform for excess food items to be given to those who need it most.

“As soon as I heard about the organization I knew I had to get involved,” Paul said. “Maria was providing a service that seemed crucial and I just wanted to help in any way that I could.”

When Belding and Paul first met, the MEANS Database had very few clients and partnerships at all. Now, after working together for 3 years, the MEANS Database has prevented more than 2.5 million pounds of food from going to waste. Paul currently works as the COO of the organization playing a critical role in acquiring and maintaining partnerships with food sources and pantries, and controlling the outreach strategy of the organization.

The efforts made by those working at the MEANS Database have been recognized constantly over the past year, largely due to the fact that the organization is almost entirely student-run. The MEANS organization has been honored in award ceremonies by companies such as Glamour and L’Oréal. Paul also had the opportunity to attend the CNN Heroes Awards, as Belding was honored as one of the 10 heroes for her efforts in starting the organization.

Despite getting to sit next to Shay Mitchell and watch one of her heroes Anderson Cooper at the CNN Heroes Awards, Paul does not consider such opportunities as the most rewarding part of working for MEANS.

“This last year has been pretty crazy,” Paul said. “But the most rewarding aspect of the job has mainly been when the system works, and just watching how quickly we have been able to help people on such a large scale, it’s almost overwhelming sometimes just seeing how important our work is.”

CEO Maria Rose Belding is set to graduate this year and go on to attend medical school, meaning Paul will likely be given a larger set of responsibilities. As she prepares to take on more challenges for the organization, Paul believes the most important issue facing this country is one of excess.

“There are far too many people who have so much more than they need,” Paul said. “Platforms that can provide services that give essentials to people who need them most, coming from people who need them the least, should always be available, but we don’t have nearly enough of them.”

Although she is not confident that current politicians are capable of making the necessary changes to solve issues of excess, Paul believes that policy is the most critical aspect of reducing the number of excess products and supplies that go to waste.

“If I didn’t work for MEANS I would want to work for organizations that focus on changing policy,” Paul said. “Policy controls how we give back to people in need and it is the fastest and most effective way of solving the problem of excess in this country.”