Millions of Americans go to bed hungry every night. Meanwhile, it is estimated that 95 billion pounds of food are thrown away in the country each year. To address this problem, six graduate and undergraduate students from Arizona State University (ASU) have created FlashFood, a food recovery network that uses the power of social media to reduce the amount of food waste and feed the hungry at the same time. The team first developed the project in 2011 while enrolled in ASU’s Engineering Projects in Community Service program, which prompts students to come up with solutions to social issues. For Eric Lehnhardt, Jake Irvin, Loni Amundson, Steven Hernandez, Ramya Baratam, and Katelyn Keberle, deciding to tackle food insecurity was a natural choice – some members have personally experienced not having enough to eat, while others have worked in the food service industry. In addition, their home state of Arizona has the third highest rate of childhood hunger in America.

According to Lehnhardt, who acts as FlashFood’s director, the issue is very apparent when driving through Phoenix. “There’s the convention center, there’s major league ballparks. And if you drive a mile to the south of those world class arenas, you’re in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the entire state,” he says. “That’s very difficult to ignore in your own community.”

FlashFood, which won at Microsoft’s US Imagine Cup, works by connecting food service vendors, community organizations, and people in need. Restaurants, caterers, grocers, and conventions that have leftover food at the end of the night notify the network’s volunteers, who pick up and deliver the food to a community center. A text message is then sent out to the hungry, alerting them of the upcoming food donation. Telephone number randomization and demand prediction technologies are used to ensure efficient distribution.

The ASU students plan to fully launch FlashFood in Phoenix by 2013.