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BUild Lab and Innovate@BU offer $10,000 prize for remedy to food insecurity

BUild Lab and Innovate@BU are back again with their spring community challenge – Campus Hunger Challenge – to tackle the issue of food insecurity among college and college-aged students.

YMCA hunger challenge partnership with BU
The Young Men’s Christian Association. BUild Lab and Innovate@BU partnered with YMCA of Greater Boston for their spring community challenge, Campus Hunger Challenge, to fight food insecurity among young adults. PERRY SOSI/DFP STAFF

The Boston University initiatives teamed up with YMCA of Greater Boston to encourage BU students and alumni to share ideas that can alleviate food insecurity amongst 19 to 26 year olds. The incentive? The winning team will receive a prize of $10,000.

Food insecurity is the lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. According to Gerald Fine, executive director of Innovate@BU, food insecurity is a “fundamental problem” on college campuses, with 30% of all college students affected by it.

This challenge is not intended to solve hunger, Micaelah Morrill, director of external relations at Innovate@BU, said, but she believes “the brilliant, delightful, creative minds of these [BU] students and alumni” could improve the situation.

Aside from the allure of winning the $10,000 prize, Morrill said that participating in the Campus Hunger Challenge would allow students to have an immersive understanding of food insecurity.

It is a really great opportunity to engage students, she said.

“I think by partnering with young adults that it’s going to really open up our minds with what they propose as their ideas to help with a sustainable new idea or solution,” Wendy Zinn, the chief partnerships and social responsibility officer at YMCA of Greater Boston, said.

The YMCA of Greater Boston has participated in government programs that serve youth 18 and under in the past. One such program was “The Child and Adult Care Food Program” — where food was served to toddlers and preschoolers during the school year.

However, when individuals turn 18, they are “aging out of the system,” and stop being eligible for a lot of these programs, Morrill said.

“It was a big problem before COVID and like so many other things, it has just been exacerbated,” Morrill said. “The idea that someone could get into school and not have enough to eat… just wrenches my little heart.”

Zinn said it was perfect timing when BU reached out as the non-profit was looking for a partner that could provide “innovative ways” to serve affected individuals.

“We’re really looking for innovative ideas that can help us grow and sustain what we’re currently doing,” she said.

The Campus Hunger Challenge is also an opportunity for those interested in a career in social impact to build their network, with the head of “Project Bread” and the chief operating officer of the “Greater Boston Food Bank” attending previous events.

Morrill highlighted students from other colleges may be part of a competing team as long as someone from BU is a key member in it.

“What better way to innovate than to innovate on problems that impact your community,” Fine said.

BUild Lab and Innovate@BU is having a kickoff event for the Campus Hunger Challenge Feb. 5 and will be hosting more events later on in the month. Applications for the challenge close on March 1 at 11:59 p.m.

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