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UNB researchers helping food banks to better respond to needs of communities

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Feb 20, 2019

Category: UNB Saint John

Researchers in the faculty of business at the UNB Saint John are working to create a comprehensive platform that will allow food banks to have a more integrated relationship with donors, volunteers, visitors and social services.

Drs. Rob Moir and Greg Fleet are working with PhD candidate Milad Pirayegar to create a platform that will provide real-time data about low-income families to better support food banks and their clients.

This web-based online platform, aptly named Smart Food Security, will also enable food banks to enhance their services by developing more concise inventory and management systems and provide a messaging network for food banks, shelters, healthcare and non-governmental organizations and other service providers.

“This platform will make food banks more efficient and will help those in poverty connect to others and not feel so isolated,” says Dr. Moir. He says that phase one of the project is designed and ready to be implemented. “We are just waiting for ethics approval. The second phase will involve building a social network between members of the community, such as lawyers, teachers and social workers.”

Once the research team collects the data, measures traffic and analyzes patterns they will be able to create the snapshot needed to implement phase three, which will involve connecting services and creating an electronic network.

“Considering that food insecurity is such a pervasive problem, both around the world and within our communities, food banks have become an integral asset,” says Mr. Pirayegar. “It’s important to understand who uses food bank services and the health and social challenges that they face, as well as their individual nutritional needs. Education, food security, income and job security are all issues that affect people.”

“Our model is based on the smart cities concept,” says Dr. Fleet. “But our project is also unique because most smart city projects seek to improve the efficiencies and performance of urban projects. Our platform attempts to use data and internet technologies to address complex social issues. The data exists. We’re just not doing a good job of recording that data.”

Dr. Fleet says that by implementing the smart cities concept into their project, they will be able to develop systematic ways of connecting social organizations to those that need it most.

The project received $145,000 in combined funding and investments, which included $25,000 from Enterprise Saint John’s Smart and Connected Data Project’s Innovation Challenge. The purpose of the challenge was to fund businesses that solve community issues by using data or connected technology. Other funding sources include $50,000 from the Industrial Research Assistance Program, $25,000 from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s Emerging Projects fund and $45,000 from Mitacs.

Media contact: Angie Deveau

Photo: Dr. Rob Moir, Dr. Greg Fleet and Milad Pirayegar. Credit: Hana Qiu.