February 13 at 8:30am

Putting food service efficiency on the map

Some high-tech mapping by students from Palomar College could aid Interfaith Community Services and other food-delivery agencies in creating more efficient ways of getting food to the people who need it.

Students in the Introduction to Geographic Information Systems class at Palomar just created their third iteration of an interactive map of U.S. Census block groups in North San Diego County. Detailed within the map are areas with high rates of poverty where people may lack food availability.

Over the past three semesters, groups of 2-3 students at a time have created additional layers to the map that show the locations of the top 12 food service centers in the region as well as faith center supporters of Interfaith Community Services.

Plans for future classes include adding a data layer for public schools, other faith centers and medical clinics, all of which could become partners in the effort to provide access to food for those in need, said Craig Jones, associate director for Interfaith Community Services.

“There are all kinds of possibilities here. You can see the spatial relationships,” said Jones. “Layer by layer we see spatially how to get a better plan to get food to populations in need.”

The most recent group of students made a presentation of the project in class in early December. The students wrote a five-page paper summarizing and analyzing their results. The biggest benefit for the students, though, is the real-world experience, said Emily Perkins, the class instructor.

“They get really excited when they realize the work they’re doing is going to benefit somebody. That’s definitely used as a motivation,” she explained.

GIS is a computerized interactive mapping system that can be a ‘very powerful tool” for processing data, said Melisa Caric, GIS program coordinator at Palomar College. It is already used for crime analysis, marketing, mapping disease outbreaks and many more applications.

“You use specialized software to do higher-level analysis: Where should we put our next site? Where are our customers?” said Caric. “It is very specialized, very particular software that is gaining more popularity.”
For Interfaith Community Services and other food agencies, using the map clearly shows gaps where people in need lack easy access to the supplies they need.

“We want to move to the next step, computerized work done on our behalf,” said Jones. “One of the real values of GIS is to be able to do real-time comparisons. To create a capacity for food service integrity projects, we need real-time access on computers.”

ICS is working with Palomar College to establish a partnership to accomplish that. The bottom line is to establish a more efficient food services program among regional agencies.
Such a partnership could help those agencies analyze how they use their resources: trucks, warehouse capacity, delivery schedules and more, explained Jones.

“Interfaith, North County Food Bank, Community Resource Center and other agencies all have our own separate sources of where we get food from; different schedules of getting food,” he said. “Why should we not create a coordinated system of pickups to get food to those agencies? It could help us schedule trips, saving time, energy and gasoline.”

The benefits aren’t limited to food services.

“There’s so much potential in this kind of data capture and spatial display. It’s not just food systems, it’s anything we as a nonprofit are doing,” Jones added. “We want to create permanent, real-time capacity with housing, and medical assistance.

“We can extend the line data. There’s a lot to build on. It’s a matter of time and some money. We can build a good case that this is valuable work and worth a grant source to fund it.”