Wilton student designs electronic food box
Hunger doesn’t obey any schedule other than its own.
If your kids are hungry but you rely on food from a food pantry and it’s closed, you’re out of luck.
The thought of that happening bothered Navod Jayawardhane, a rising senior at Wilton High School. It bothered him so much he designed and then built a box that can be filled with up to 50 cans of food available to people who need it. What makes this box special, though, is the electrical sensors he built into it that will send out an email alert when the box needs to be refilled.
Navod’s first box — he’s working on a second — has been installed at the Jefferson Valley Mall in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and there will be a dedication ceremony on Tuesday, Aug. 6, at 4 p.m.
“I saw that not just in Wilton, but in many communities there are problems with food insecurity,” he said when asked why he took on this project. He noted that “at food pantries the times they are open might clash with other things people have to do and they might find it hard to get the items that they need. And people who might want to donate might not be able to do it at a convenient time or location.
“I wanted to create something that solves this problem and lets people get what they need while still helping them preserve their anonymity and dignity,” he said.
When Navod could not find a place in Wilton where the box could be used and refilled frequently enough, he considered the mall. He approached Alexa O’Rourke, Jefferson Valley’s general manager, who coincidentally is a Wilton High School graduate. She and marketing manager Heather Novak were enthusiastic about placing the box in the mall.
In fact, O’Rourke created a special place where it will reside with a large bin nearby for donations of canned goods to be dropped off that will be used to replenish the stock in the box. Additionally, O’Rourke ordered a sign for the food box to explain its purpose to serve the community along with a sign on the floor to lead people to its location. Based on the honor system, wording on the sign says, “Take what you need, leave what you can.”
“My belief is if someone needs an item, they will take it,” Navod said. “If they can purchase it for themselves, they wouldn’t go to a box to take it for free. If they need items for any reason, it’s just there for them.”
“I started designing it in December on the computer, transferred [the design] to the box and built it from there. The bright blue box is made of MDF wood with a door on the front of clear acrylic. It’s about two feet wide and three feet tall with two shelves that can hold 10 rows of cans, five per row. There is a larger shelf below for bulkier items, such as a box of rice, although those items are not tracked.
Ultrasonic distance sensors keep track of the number of canned goods in the food box, and when the quantity becomes low an email alert is automatically sent to the person in charge of restocking it.
The box has been getting a test run at the mall and Navod has made a few tweaks in his design based on feedback.
His second box was built last week and the electronics are all done. “I just have to finish programming it,” he said, adding he is “still looking for a location in Wilton or nearby.” He expects it to be installed within the next month or two.
Navod is an honors student and co-captain of Singularity Technology, the robotics team at Wilton Library. He is planning a career in electrical engineering.
For anyone interested in learning more about the food box, Navod is developing a website: navodjaya28.wixsite.com/foodpantrybox.