Overcoming Obstacles

Welcome all to the spring semester. With classes driving into full gear, so is the NYU FREEdge. Starting next week, the FREEdge’s progress will be entering a rapid prototyping stage, where we will consider and compare all of the prototype options that we’ve developed in the fall semester and have yet to test. Jumpstarting this effort, the grant (and invaluable Blackstone coaching) we are honored to receive from Phase II of NYU’s Prototyping Fund, will help us pursue our ultimate goal of expanding a successful prototype to NYU’s Washington Square campus.
Despite our efforts, however, a technological hurtle has halted our current prototype, using a touchscreen-enabled Raspberry Pi to conduct our “smart” user experience. We are unable to connect to NYU’s Wi-Fi network, rendering our data and live feed of the FREEdge purely local. As a result, we cannot currently provide live coverage of the FREEdge to Share Meals, as we had anticipated. Nevertheless, we are not deterred. Roadblocks allow us to take a step back and reassess previous problems and their solutions to improve upon the model in a way that resolves both current and previous issues; we WILL resolve the connectivity problem. We will retest our user interface with an iPad, which will allow us to bypass our current connection issues, as well as redesign the U.I. with a more streamlined experience.

The second Sandwich Packathon, hosted by Share Meals at Kimmel Center this past Sunday, brought in over 50 surplus sandwiches, further emphasizing the need for the NYU FREEdge in advancing the impact of free-food and affordability initiatives. Therefore, we will move on to light prototyping and data collection with a simple sticky note and color code system. In the meantime, we will investigate workarounds for the Wi-Fi issue and pursue organizational sponsorships for more cleaning supplies, food containers, and additional refrigerators. We also need YOUR feedback. Let us know what you think about the cleaning and packing supplies mounted on the FREEdge, or let us know any advice or ideas you might have; we would like to hear everything! Feel free to leave us an email at nyufreedge@gmail.com or check out our Facebook page.

N.I.C.E.’s Nice Advice

With both our first major event and the completion of our new Freedge prototype quickly approaching, we would like to take the opportunity to reminiscence on how we got to where we are now. We had the privilege of receiving the think-tank advice of NYU’s Net Impact Collaborative Experience (NICE). NICE is a highly inclusive consulting group aimed at advising startups and social ventures in a way that is both inquisitive and informational. Through their questions and answers to our questions, we have gained tremendous insight into some of the challenges that we might encounter, solutions to already existing issues, and altogether new, innovative ideas. At our meeting, we focused primarily on marketing, outreach, and user experience.

The exuberant group we met with provided a lot of insight into our graphic design. With their suggestions, we took an introspective look into what aspects of our current graphic design works and what doesn’t, noting that at first glance it is impossible to grasp our sustainability and affordability goals from just our project name and logo. This jump-started our redesign efforts. The first step was to rebrand. Project Avocado would remain as our team/organizational name and “Freedge” would become the title and descriptor of our refrigerator prototype. The much more intuitive and understandable name comes from our new friends over at UC-Davis, who created the Freedge brand also aimed at reducing food waste, but on a much larger scale. We also discussed ways we could improve our recognition – through an overhaul of our logo and motto, as well as the inclusion of plenty of info-graphs, a storyboard, various hashtags, and catchy phrases; in a cumulative and cooperative effort of the NICE group inspired the slogan “SHARE. ACCEPT. CONNECT.”

We also looked into how we might expand our audience and resources: distributing flyers, seeking partnerships and collaborations, expressing and spreading the need for sustainability and food security, acquiring additional food-space for other NYU facilities through company sponsorships and abandoned dorm mini-fridges, and acquiring additional food-resources through obtaining the surplus of farmers markets and free-food club events. The NICE group even highlighted specific NYU facilities that they felt might benefit most from our system, once we are ready to expand into additional locations.

NICE also helped us formulate a breakdown of how we would like our user experience to be with our system. Their advice allowed us to complete the transformation of our system from something that required manual labor and many, many sticky notes to a semi-automated system fully equipped with a touchscreen that allows the user to input food type and allergen information simply and easily –  eventually, along with a camera that provides a live broadcast of what is in the Freedge. The user experience was refined through hypothetical simulations of what the user experience would be like for varying degrees of automation. Ultimately, we gathered that near-full automation is ideal until we achieve the availability of resources necessary to hire students to manage refrigerators around NYU’s campus. This alternative will be less cost-effective than one that is autonomous, but having a Freedge ambassador present could allow the system to also build an engaged community around the Freedge – a goal that was encouraged and emphasized by the good people at NICE.

The group picked up on our initiative immediately without much prior information.
We are grateful for all the advice we received from this tremendous group.

Please feel free to check out their Facebook page and follow NICE for upcoming events, as we highly recommend it.

City Harvest Donates More Than Just Food

With our tech prototype coming together better than we could have hoped, we set out to settle our uncertainty around the legality and liabilities surrounding food sharing. If a generous student decided to share a peanut granola bar, would that student be liable if a peanut-allergic student accepts the granola bar? Essentially, we needed to be certain that any food sharing with harmless intentions would be met with unconditional support from the community (as well as legal support). Without any previous grasp of food laws, we sought advice from City Harvest, the widely-known “food rescue” agency based in NYC; noting the thoroughness and success of their enterprise, we safely assumed that they undertook such an investigation as the one we would have to undertake with our own, incomparable resources. With their help, we were able to confirm definitively that any and all participants who have chosen to share food and have done so without negligence or intentional misconduct are not liable for damage incurred as the result of someone accepting the food. City Harvest presented this information in association with Feeding America, a similarly-intentioned nonprofit, citing The Bill Emerson Food Donation Act and a portion of New York State Law which protect those who wish to share food. The federal Act is the 1996 affirmation of colloquial Good Samaritan Laws, which have popularly been used to protect generous people from unintended consequences, but have not until this Act been implemented concretely into official, permanent law. According to the enactment of:

Public Law 104–210 on Oct. 1, 1996

110 Stat. 3011

104th Congress

“A person or gleaner shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product that the person or gleaner donates in good faith to a nonprofit organization… A nonprofit organization shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product that the nonprofit organization received as a donation in good faith from a person or gleaner”

This definitively protects both those who wish to share food and us, facilitating the sharing. The only exception outlined in the law is if the ‘unintended consequence’ of sharing food is actually intentional and

“results from an act or omission of the person, gleaner or nonprofit organization, as applicable, constituting gross negligence [defined as “voluntary and conscious conduct (including a failure to act) by a person who, at the time of the conduct, knew that the conduct was likely to be harmful to the health or well-being of another person”] or intentional misconduct.”

The cited 1981 New York State Law (Article 4-D, Section 71-2) doubles down on this protection, stating that

“a good faith donor of any canned or perishable food or farm product … shall not be subject to criminal penalty or civil damages arising from the condition of the food … unless the donor has actual or constructive knowledge that the food is adulterated, tainted, contaminated or harmful to the health or well-being of the person consuming said food.”


Along with settling our legality and liability concerns, City Harvest aided our selection of food-inventory organization categories (based on food type). These categories are detailed below along with the parameters of “Unacceptable Conditions” that we will borrow from to form our own food sharing standards.