Inaugural Franklin SP2 Social Innovation Prize winners to tackle food deserts
Philadelphia is the fifth largest city in America, its former capital, and a cultural mecca that has become a destination for tourists the world over. But according to the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit working to eradicate hunger, the city’s First Congressional District, which includes parts of North and South Philly, is the second hungriest in the nation.
Lower North Philadelphia in the First Congressional District is an urban food desert, which is defined as an area with little to no access to healthy food options. Nearly 20 percent of households are “low wealth.”
A team of Penn students has formulated an innovative pilot program called “Fresh Box” to address the problem of food deserts. The program would enable low-income residents who live in food deserts to order healthy food options online at a reasonable price. After placing food orders at conveniently located kiosks, groceries would be delivered to the residents’ homes or to lockers in accessible locations like community centers.
On May 12, Fresh Box won the inaugural Franklin SP2 Social Innovation Prize, defeating five other student-led teams from Penn. Students presented their proposals at a live public “pitch session” held in the Pennovation Center. Penn’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP) and the School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) hosted the competition.
The Franklin Prize is awarded to the student team that develops the most promising and innovative project to address one of the “SP2 Penn Top 10 Social Justice & Policy Issues.” Through this multimodal initiative, experts from SP2 analyze some of the most crucial social justice and policy issues in the nation.
The prize was established by Julie Franklin, a member of the SP2 Board of Overseers, and her family, and came with a $5,000 cash award. The Franklin family was so pleased with the inaugural launch and winning project that the donors have pledged to award Fresh Box an additional $10,000 in research and development funds.
The Fresh Box team’s plan to address urban food deserts impressed the panel of judges (which included former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter), who grilled team members about the viability of their plan’s public and private partnerships, as well as food ordering and delivery logistics.
The Fresh Box project seeks to not only give users access to fresh, healthy food, but also a “dignified shopping experience,” says team member Lauren Kruglinski, a master’s student in nonprofit leadership at SP2.
“People don’t want to shop in places that don’t smell good, that have bad lighting, where they can’t get fresh food,” she says. “We want to give them an experience that they can feel proud of and build a community around.”
Kruglinski’s teammates are Robin Kendall, a Wharton MBA student, and Benjamin Young, a rising senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. The Fresh Box project is his brainchild.
All three students started the project while enrolled in “Social Impact Strategy, Analysis and Leadership,” a course taught by CHIP Founding Executive Director Katherina Rosqueta.
“Without the class, we couldn’t be here,” says Kendall.
“From the beginning, we insisted that this class be open to graduate and advanced undergraduate students from all 12 schools at Penn,” Rosqueta explains. “Where else will a former investment banker work alongside a child therapist, or a former policy analyst have a class discussion with a former teacher who is sitting next to a former farmer? One of the great joys of teaching this course is that time and again, we see how the best thinking comes from integrating knowledge across silos, for real-world impact.”
The Fresh Box team will collaborate with Fresh Direct, which, via a pilot program serving two New York zip codes, is one of the few grocery delivery services that accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as well as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits.
Fresh Box users would create a free Fresh Direct account and then shop at the website the same way as middle- or high-income customers do. They could buy their food with various forms of payment including Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) or SNAP cards.
The student team plans to expand the Fresh Box program citywide and later replicate the model in Camden, N.J., New York City, and, eventually, Detroit.