“Gator Grub Alerts” helps students find free food on campus


Gator Grub Alert sends notifications to students who login and opt-in on the SF State app and went live on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. (Christian Urrutia/Golden Gate Xpress

“Free food” is an eye-catching title for most college students, especially in San Francisco.
According to Feeding America, as of 2016, more than 125,000 San Franciscans are food insecure.
Much of this food insecurity is a result of the high cost of living in the city. SF State students are not immune to this, or the resulting food insecurity. According to a study by the National College Health Assessment in 2016, 33 percent of SF State students surveyed reported food insecurity. The study defined food insecurity as the inability to afford balanced meals.
SF State students at the Environmental Resource Center (ERC) collaborated with Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) to create a free food notification system for students called “Gator Grub Alerts.” This new application is available through the SF State mobile app. Notifications are sent out when catered events have excess food, and include the time, location and what type of food is provided.
Similar programs at UCSF and CSU Fullerton, also initiated by students, were the basis for SF State’s new app.
The alert system went live Nov. 12 and its first alert went out Dec. 5. After the first day of marketing the app on Dec. 3, the app gained around 200 users, according to Jack Steinmann, director of the ERC. Since then the app has sent out many notifications to fit all dietary restrictions, including vegan and gluten-free options.
Steinmann emphasizes that the app came from student-led initiation rather than an administrative effort to treat hungry students.
“It was started by students, it was pushed by students, and it is for students,” Steinmann said.
Karen Boyce, director of the HPW, agreed, saying the app was borne of cooperation between students in the ERC, and interns and staff at HPW.
“The Gator Grub Alert program is a true collaboration between students and staff,” Boyce said. “ERC student leaders conceived the idea for the program and submitted it as part of HPW’s application for the CSU Hunger Free Campus grant funding.”
Steinmann said he wrote and proposed a grant to the administration for the app in August 2017 as part of a broader food rescue initiative.
“We’re trying to change the way we treat and respect food on this campus,” Steinmann said.
Sophia Benzoni, a Food Rescue Initiative Specialist for the ERC, encourages students to get involved with the app and to participate in the Food Rescue events they hold every Friday with the hope it will cut back on campus food waste.
These rescues save food that would have been thrown out by the dining commons, for example, and deliver it to nonprofits in the area. According to the ERC, SF State throws out anywhere from 100 to 400 pounds of edible food every day.
Gator Grub Alerts poses a solution to this costly problem for students.
“Students are buying and paying for the food that’s being thrown out, but they have no say over what happens to the food every day,” Steinmann said. “Students are paying for [uneaten food] to be here, and there’s hungry students outside of this door.”
Benzoni feels as though being part of the project to make Gator Grub Alerts a reality exposed her to the harsh realities of food waste.
“On one hand, you see food waste literally everywhere, and considering how many students are food insecure at SF State, it’s kind of overwhelming,” Benzoni said. “On the other hand, there’s also a lot of hope and there’s a lot that you can do, even if you’re just a freshman, there’s a lot you can do to help.”
Steinmann hopes that, beyond encouraging students to get their free food and acknowledge food waste, Gator Grub Alerts will show students they can create change on campus just as he and other members of the ERC and HPW did.
“Beyond increasing food accessibility to students, I hope the Gator Grub Alerts free food notification system empowers students with this message: Every student can make impactful, lasting change on our campus,” Steinmann said. “The problems we find with our university are no match for dedicated teams with the right solutions, motivation and persistence. If you want to change something on campus, you should.”