Food Bank

Every month 200,000 pounds of food goes in and out of the Catholic Community Services (CCS) Northern Utah Food Bank to help sustain 2,300 households. Thanks to the volunteer work of a group of Weber State University computer science students, donations can now be recorded and managed through a sophisticated inventory-control database.

The CCS Food Bank is the largest in Northern Utah, yet until the project’s implementation in March, the staff recorded all its inventory data on paper. At each month’s end, the information was compiled and distilled into numerous reports required to comply with laws and regulations governing a food bank.

“What used to take our office manager days, she now does at the click of a button,” said Karina Martin, CCS volunteer and community outreach coordinator. “We still are reeling from the help of these truly talented students. They’ve eliminated the need for pencil and paper and allowed us to run instantaneous reports and determine how much food we have and where it is located in one of our four pantry areas.”

The eight students began meeting with CCS during the fall semester. They had to understand the process thoroughly in order to design a system to account for the date, amount and donor of every food item, and then monitor the storage and distribution of the food.

 “As team members, we all randomly picked this project,” said software engineering senior Anthony Dietrich. “Happily, we found ourselves as a very well-rounded team with a lot of different specialties including hardware and software engineers as well as visual and mobile designers. Among the eight of us, we all brought the unique roles this project needed.”

The two-semester course is the senior project for computer engineering, and the students spent a combined 835 hours researching, writing, installing and testing the system.

“We always knew this project would be hard; we never knew that the outcome would be so successful,” Martin said. “The students exceeded our expectations by a factor of 1 million. Their attention to detail was incredible. What we have seen through this project is a very effective mutual collaboration. We had a need, and they had skills, and we both received a great deal out of this partnership.”

In addition to building a database, the students installed a wireless network in the building and donated a tablet, so barcodes could be scanned and transmitted from anywhere with ease. 

Associate professor of computer science Richard Fry teaches the course and mentors the students. He was named the Utah Campus Compact Civically Engaged Scholar of the Year for his work with the food bank and other projects throughout the year.  

“I see more retention of academic content because students’ experiences and outcomes have real-world value and impact their local community, long after students graduate,” Fry said. “As a result, many students see themselves as more prepared for the job market than those who do not actively participate outside the classroom.”

After eight months of work and one month of testing, the official completion date is April 1, but computer science students and faculty have committed continued support as needed.

In addition to programming experience, teamwork and leadership, senior Andrew Heim said he learned another valuable lesson — volunteerism can take many forms. 

“People can give much more than food at the food bank,” Heim said. “Knowledge and time are valuable commodities to share.”

Team members included: 

Ian Bell, computer science, Ogden
Anthony Dietrich, software engineering, Bountiful
Marilyse Gast, software engineering, Roy
Matthew Hadfield, computer science, Kaysville
Andrew Heim, computer science, North Ogden
Michael Jasper, software engineering, Roy
Eric Raleigh, computer science, Roy
Stephen Rippon, computer science, North Ogden

Originally written by Allison Barlow Hess for WSU communications