UC Davis students work for Yolo County Food Bank to combat COVID-19-related food insecurity

UC Davis students work for Yolo County Food Bank to combat COVID-19-related food insecurity

Photo Credits: KAITLYN PANG / AGGIE

Graduate student Eliza Oldach drives food delivery trucks, fourth-year Lily Keene assists deliveries through GIS

Amid the current crisis, food insecurity is an even greater issue for people in need. To combat this, the Yolo Food Bank recently began running a grocery delivery service made possible thanks to local volunteers who oversee distribution and package and deliver goods to households in the county. 

Eliza Oldach, a UC Davis ecology graduate student, began volunteering as a delivery driver once a week for the food bank after the shelter-in-place order was enacted.

“When shelter-in-place started, it was so obvious that things had changed so much, so quickly,” Oldach said. “All of a sudden, it felt like a lot of the choices that were available to me before were no longer choices that I had control over. But I know there are a lot of people that are doing a lot worse, and so it felt like helping was the most important thing to do as kind of a rebellion against feeling like you’re in crisis mode.”

Although she and other drivers are required to practice social distancing, for Oldach, volunteering has provided a way to continue community interaction.

“You’re physically distant, but there are these ties that I’m making and all the other volunteers are making to people living in Davis or living in Woodland [that] for sure I wouldn’t have made otherwise,” Oldach said.

The deliveries are coordinated through an app similar to DoorDash or UberEats: Volunteers are assigned drop-off locations and drive their own cars. According to Oldach, the convenience of the app makes it easy to contribute a few hours each week.

“They made it really straightforward to be involved, and it instantly felt like you were doing something useful,” Oldach said.

Behind the app, there are many volunteers and food bank employees working to facilitate easy delivery. One of these volunteers is Lily Keene, a fourth-year sustainable environmental design major. Keene works in the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database for Yolo County Food Bank, helping with the influx of food bank requests through fixing addresses and responding to driver concerns.

“As people sign up for food deliveries, they put where their location is, but people who aren’t familiar with the software sometimes set it wherever and it’s not where their address says,” Keene said.

Keene, along with several other UC Davis students assigned to different areas of Yolo County, works to match the points with the correct addresses so delivery drivers can go to the right location. In her last quarter at UC Davis, Keene is close to completing a minor in GIS and said she appreciates gaining experience in real-world applications of the technology.

“This is some of the first GIS experience I’ve had working on something that’s real and doing something helpful,” Keene said. “I know that sitting behind a computer doing GIS isn’t my dream job, but it’s nice to know that when I’m doing it, it’s for a purpose.”

GIS provides a way for Keene to contribute in a unique way to a cause that assists people.  

“During this time, it’s hard to feel purposeful,” Keene said. “I feel like it was something that made me feel like I had a little bit of help that I could give to the situation, even though I’m not directly working with anyone.”

According to Keene, although her work involves clicking and moving points on a computer, this application of the technology for Yolo Food Bank has important impacts on a larger scale.

“I think GIS is a very powerful tool,” Keene said. “Making sure that they’re getting the correct amount at the correct time at the right address means so much more than just moving points on a map.”

To volunteer, donate or request a food delivery visit the Yolo Food Bank website.

Written by: Sophie Dewees — features@theaggie.org

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