Wilton student’s food box unveiled at mall celebration

Navod Jayawardhane, who will be a senior at Wilton High School when school begins later this month, was congratulated by New York state Sen. Pete Harckham when his electronic food box was unveiled at the Jefferson Valley Mall in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

The celebration took place Aug. 6 on the second floor of the mall just past the food court, where the food box was installed, near the community room and staff offices. It is accessible to the those dealing with food insecurity during the mall’s hours of operation.

Navod, an honors student and co-captain of the robotics team at Wilton Library, developed the idea to use electronics to create the self-service food box. He devised a means of using ultrasonic distance sensors to keep track of the number of canned goods in the food box. When the supply becomes low, a signal automatically sends an email alert to the person in charge of restocking the food box.

Navod also created a website —https://navodjaya28.wixsite.com/foodpantrybox — to expand and share his concept with other communities. The website includes all the design and build plans and programming needed to build an electronic food box.

Harckham commended Navod’s “sophisticated inventory system” and his generosity, pointing out “…this is open source so on his website people can get all the plans, all the coding, where to buy all the electronics and this is something that could spread to all public spaces. It doesn’t have to be a mall, it could be a church, it could be an office building, it can be a community rec center. And it’s just so fabulous that you not only recognize food insecurity but put your knowledge and passion for electrical engineering to work to come up with a solution. That’s remarkable.”

Mall general manager Alexa O’Rourke, and the marketing director, Heather Novak, embraced the food box by creating a special place in the mall where it resides with a bin nearby for residents to drop off donations of canned goods that will be used to replenish the stock in the box. O’Rourke had signs created for the food box that explains its purpose along with floor clings that lead people to its location. The wording on the sign says, “Take what you need, leave what you can.”

“The Jefferson Valley Mall Community Hub is here to help take care of our community,” O’Rourke said. “This is a center for people to come to and engage with each other as well as feel supported, embraced and cared for. Our office will restock the food box when we receive the signal that it is low and we’ll hold excess inventory of canned goods to help feed families in need in our community.”