Summer break for students means plenty of time outside, carefree days playing at the park and hours of riding bikes with friends. But for many kids in Indiana, it also means a break from easily accessible, nutritious meals. More than 400,000 students in Indiana take advantage of free or reduced school lunches during the school year. So how can kids in the Indianapolis area access healthy meals when school isn’t in session? The Indy Parks Summer Servings program. The program currently serves about 5,000 meals a day, meaning about 200,000 meals per summer. With 100-140 sites each summer, the goal is to create even more sites and spread the reach to students who need it.
The Summer Servings program provides high-quality meals to anyone 18 years old and younger in the Indianapolis area. Meals are provided throughout Marion County at certified serving sites to any student. There is no registration and no strings attached. Kids can simply show up and eat a healthy meal twice a day. Unfortunately, this program goes largely underutilized. Only 20% of students are actually taking advantage of these meals, which leads to the alarming question, where are kids getting meals during the summer?
This question has been a challenge to Indy Parks Coordinator Milele Kennedy. The team at Indy Parks and supporting organizations have been working tirelessly to spread awareness and make it as easy as possible for kids to receive their meals. An innovative solution to this problem eventually came to Milele through an unlikely source – a 15-year-old Park Tudor student named Cole Momcilovich.
Summer Innovation Institute
In the summer of 2016, Cole Momcilovich was participating in the Innovators Institute, a summer program offering opportunities for high schoolers to gain hands-on experience in the world of entrepreneurship and innovation. Students look within their own community to solve problems and design solutions. As part of the Innovators Institute program, students meet with community leaders and organizations and are then presented with a challenge or problem. At the end of the program, students pitch their ideas to a panel of business leaders. Students with the best ideas are rewarded $1,500 seed money to fund their ideas.
Milele was asked to come in and speak with students about the challenges facing student meals during the summer. She outlined the program and the challenges, underutilization of the program, especially among older students, and the goals for the organization. A few weeks later, Milele got the news that one student had taken on this challenge and had an idea to make the program easier for students to take advantage of. This was the beginning of a long journey for Cole and Milele to get more kids involved in the program and serve students who don’t have access to healthy, reliable meals.
About the Meals On The Go App
Being a teenager himself, Cole knew the best way to connect with other kids is through their phones. The app was the perfect solution for reaching kids where they are already active. According to Pew Research Center, 37 percent of teenagers age 13 to 17 have or have access to a smartphone. 88 percent of teenagers, age 13 to 17 have or have access to a cellphone and 91 percent of teenagers, age 13 to 17, access the internet on cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices at least occasionally. [Source]
“’I came up with the idea of an app that would show the user what was on the menu, as well as, where and when they can access the free nutritional meals based on their location or zip code. My app will make it easier for kids to access free nutritional meals during the summer months, as well as after school.”
This idea ended up earning Cole the $1,500 seed money for the app, but unfortunately, that was not enough to get the app into development.
After Innovators Institute
After the Innovator camp was over Cole was still determined to make his app, but needed more funding. Milele saw this dedication to the project and was struck by how passionate Cole was to see the app through.
“Through searching for funders, Cole never gave up on his application. He continued to work tirelessly through the next year of his high school career, never giving up on his mission to complete the app and see it come to fruition”
After months of calling and reaching out to investors and organizations who might be able to help, Cole was still without the backing he needed to create the app. As Cole persisted, people in the Indianapolis and Fishers communities began talking and trying to find a way to help make this a reality and help thousands of kids reach the daily nutrition they need. Through a mutual connection at Park Tudor, Cole was introduced to Eleven Fifty Academy COO Bob Alcorn. Being that Eleven Fifty teaches coding skills and has a wide network of alumni and professionals with the skills needed to develop the app, this connection was exactly what the app needed to get off the ground.
Finding the Perfect Development Partner
After learning about the app, Bob took action to find the perfect partner for Cole to bring this app to development. He knew just the person to take on this kind of project with the passion to make it something incredible. Bob introduced Cole to Auri Rahimzadeh, a software developer and instructor at Eleven Fifty.
“I was one of the first instructors at Eleven Fifty and still teach courses. I like getting involved in startups and projects that benefit the community. When Cole told me about his idea, I thought it would be a great, impactful project to be a part of.”
Auri has years of experience in development and the skill set to help Cole create the app. Auri is passionate about serving the community, and often takes on tasks to serve others, like the award-winning City of Fishers CrimeWatch App. After they met, Auri and Cole started discussing the app, who it could help, and how it could come together – and a partnership was immediate.
The Meals On The Go App
As they started planning the app, Auri shared his experience working with kids through the Big Brothers program. He knew that many kids had smartphones, but not all had access to data at all times. So Auri and Cole made the app available both on and offline. Users can see the times and locations without using data for those who don’t have consistent Wi-Fi.