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Website seeks to make free food less elusive

Photo illustration by Mark Batke / Photo editor

Photo illustration by Mark Batke / Photo editor

Day in and day out, students (and most people, for that matter) share a similar question: “What am I going to eat today?” On a college budget, affordable, nearby food isn’t always easy to find.

That is just the problem Genevieve Nielsen and Jon Eberhardt, co-founders of the website freefoodfinder.co, hope to solve. Launched in the past year, Free Food Finder compiles a list of events on several college campuses that serve free food to students.

“(It) is designed to help students publicize their events on campus, and it also helps students find new free food events,” Nielsen said. “But even more than just finding free food, help introduce them to new experiences, help get them the most out of their college experience by introducing them to new people and ideas.”

OSU is one of 16 other colleges currently part of the website, which also includes Big Ten schools Purdue, Northwestern, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The website allows visitors to see two events without logging in, and offers users who sign up the ability to add events and see the full list of upcoming events. It is free to sign up.

The coding of Free Food Finder’s website has a tool that pulls keywords like “free food” and “refreshments” from all supported universities’ RSS feeds and aggregates them onto its site.

Kelly Fager, a fourth-year in agricultural communication who leads the Collegiate Young Farmers, said she was surprised to see the CYF’s event, Farm to Fork Table Talks, included on Free Food Finder’s list of events at OSU.

“It’s an opportunity for other people to be able to attend and come because our event … is about having conversations, so for that being listed is a good opportunity to have a wide array of campus available,” Fager said.

Fager said she has attended an event before just for the food, and that the CYF has drawn attendees with the promise of free food, too.

Nielsen, who graduated from college in May, said she and Eberhardt met while studying at Davidson College and developed the idea that became Free Food Finder.

“As a college student, I noticed that student organizations and college administrations would often serve delicious, free food in order to encourage greater attendance at their events … but actually a lot of it would often go uneaten,” Nielsen said. “Students like myself were usually unaware of a lot of the free food being offered and might purchase dinner while an event offering free food was being offered down the hall.”

Nielsen said she and Eberhardt wanted to build a system to “help organizations more effectively publicize their events and make it easier for college students looking for free food to come and experience it.”

The duo have created a free app for iPhone and Android that will be released in the upcoming month.

“We also wanted to have kind of a texting feature for students who might not have a smartphone or are sort of on the go,” Nielsen said. “Students can text in ‘Ohio State’ to a number we have on our website and they’ll get the next free food event on campus.”

Other features include the ability to add events through Facebook to the site and app, and Nielson hopes to have in the future an opt-in email service to alert students “who want the information to come to them.”

Nielsen said Free Food Finder is about more than just food, it’s another way for students to know what is happening on campus.

“I know even at my small liberal arts college I was often unaware of … all the different opportunities that were accessible to me, all the different speakers coming in, all the different cultural events,” she said. “I think that maybe if there’s another way for (students) to see all the exciting things that are happening on their college campus it’ll just really help them … to learn about new opportunities.”

Nielsen said she thinks the app is accessible for any student at OSU and that she hopes to reach as many people as possible.

“People at Ohio State have just been awesome about this,” she said. “It’s so great to see.”

Nielsen said she and Eberhardt are always welcome to suggestions. “We’re definitely interested in feedback,” Nielsen said. “If any student at OSU has any suggestions or if there’s something that would make it more useful for them, we would love to hear.”

Nielsen said she has agonized over this project since her graduation and that it’s nice to see people responding positively to it.

“I think technology will continue to keep us more connected,” she said, and Free Food Finder aims to do just that.

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