On Tuesday, August 6th, State Senator Pete Harckham celebrated the installation of the first-ever electronic food box at the Jefferson Valley Mall in Yorktown Heights, NY to help serve families dealing with food insecurity. This electronic food box is located on the second floor of the mall just past the food court near the community room and staff offices. It is accessible to the public during the mall’s hours of operation.
Navod Jayawardhane, a rising senior, honors student and co-captain of his high school’s robotics team from Wilton, CT, developed the idea to use electronics to create this self-service food box. Through the use of ultrasonic distance sensors that keep track of the number of canned goods residing in the food box at any point in time, Navod devised a system that sends a signal when the quantity of canned goods inside the box becomes low. When this happens, an email alert is automatically sent to the person in charge of restocking the food box. Navod said, “When someone comes to a food box to pick up canned goods because their family is in need of assistance that day, they will be disappointed to find the box empty. I wanted to create something that solves this problem and lets people get what they need while still helping them preserve their anonymity and dignity.”
Navod has created a website, https://navodjaya28.wixsite.com/foodpantrybox to expand and share his concept with other communities. His website includes all the design and build plans and programming needed to build an electronic food box to help address the issue of food insecurity by making canned goods available at a time and place when families need a little extra help.
As State Senator Harckham said at the installation ceremony, Navod has created a “sophisticated inventory system” “…this is open source so on his website people can get all the plans, all the coding, where to buy all the electronics and this is something that could spread to all public spaces. It doesn’t have to be a mall, it could be a church, it could be an office building, it can be a community rec center. And it’s just so fabulous that you not only recognize food insecurity but put your knowledge and passion for electrical engineering to work to come up with a solution. That’s remarkable.”The General Manager of the mall, Alexa O’Rourke, and the Marketing Director, Heather Novak, embraced Navod’s electronic food box by creating a special place in the mall where it resides with a bin nearby for residents to drop off donations of canned goods that will be used to replenish the stock in the box. O’Rourke had signage created for the food box that explains its purpose to serve the community along with floor clings that lead people to its location. The wording on the sign says, “Take what you need, leave what you can.” O’Rourke said, “The Jefferson Valley Mall Community Hub is here to help take care of our community. This is a center for people to come to and engage with each other as well as feel supported, embraced and cared for. Our office will restock the food box when we receive the signal that it is low and we’ll hold excess inventory of canned goods to help feed families in need in our community.”