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IU Indianapolis students help food pantries streamline their work through research

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Posted at 8:05 PM, Jun 13, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS — According to IU Indianapolis, there are over 200 food pantries across Marion County. Each have different issues.

Students from IU Indianapolis spent the last semester working in teams to solve each pantry's individual needs.

"Some pantries operate and serve like a thousand families per week, and some serve maybe 100 families per week,” Lou Lenzi, a Professor of Practice IU Indianapolis, said. “So, they are all kind of different in terms of their volume. And that was the beauty of the project, each team could zero in on those pantries and look for ways to make those improvements."

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The students worked with five pantries across Marion County.

At Hawthorn Community Center, they noticed one thing right away: clients wanted more choice and a way to make the process go faster.

"Every time they used to come in, they would have to sign-in on a piece paper,” Anamitra Jana, a recent graduate who worked on the project, said. “So, we digitalized that, reducing a lot of time. Also, previously it was pre-packed food so there was a lot of labor that went with just setting up the pantry."

Now, the labor is reduced because staff simply rolls the food out rather than packing it in boxes and handing it to clients. Clients also now get to choose what they would like to take home with them.

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"To be able to choose what you want saves us some time because you don't use everything they give you at the pantry,” Teresa Prater, a Food Pantry client, said. “Nothing goes to waste."

Now, clients like Prater will be able to get more of the things she does use, especially since she has several mouths to feed.

"I am raising my three grandson's, they are 13, 15 and 17, and you know, boys eat a lot,” Prater said.

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Helping people like Prater are what the students say made their work worthwhile.

"As human centered designers, that is what we strive for,” Radhika Bhoj, a recent graduate and student who worked on the project, said. “That our work would create some impact, as simple as someone getting food on their plate because of some little work we did."

IU Indianapolis does plan on continuing this project in the next academic year where they will work with other food pantries across the city.

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