The student-led food pantry Devil’s Depot — formerly known as the Pitchfork Pantry — launched pilot programs with DoorDash and Starship Technologies in February to increase food accessibility for students at the Tempe campus.
Students living on and off campus can sign up online to have either DoorDash or the Starship robot food-delivery service deliver free food to them once every other week.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity is defined as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.
“Sometimes food insecurity in college students can be very misunderstood and can look a lot different than it does in the general public, and for that reason, it needs special attention and it needs resources like the Devil’s Depot and emergency food resources,” said Lindsay Pacheco, a senior majoring in medical studies and the director of Devil’s Depot for the Downtown Phoenix campus. “It also needs innovative programs like the Starship partnership, like the DoorDash partnership to be able to reach out to them specifically.”
The Devil’s Depot provides college students with a variety of hygiene products, nonperishables and fresh food items, with support from local food banks like St. Mary’s Food Bank and Matthew’s Crossing Food Bank.
READ MORE: Devil’s Depot continues the mission of former Pitchfork Pantry with plans to improve
While students can come in person to pick up fresh food and non-perishables at Devil’s Depot events at the First United Methodist Church every other Saturday, the club now also offers students living on campus and off campus alternative ways to receive free food on those same days.
Students who live 3 to 10 miles away from the Tempe campus and lack transportation can fill out an eligibility form the week of a distribution event by Friday to have food delivered to them through DoorDash the following Saturday. Maureen McCoy, the faculty advisor for the Devil’s Depot, determines which students are eligible based on where they live and sends that information to DoorDash.
On the day of distribution, DoorDash drivers will drive to the distribution event, pick up the prepared packages and deliver them to the students.
“Location can be a huge issue when it comes to receiving food, especially if people don’t have cars or if people need certain accommodations and have certain disabilities that can hinder them from easily accessing a bus and things like that,” Pacheco said.
The team has completed about two to four DoorDash deliveries each week since its soft launch in February, McCoy said. The free program does not require any tipping, and the 10-mile radius also includes students who live in Mesa and downtown Phoenix.
Students who live on the Tempe campus and are not able to come to the distribution event in person can also use the Starship mobile app to have food delivered to them with the robot food-delivery service.
On the morning of distribution from around 7:30 a.m. until 9:30 a.m., students can set the Devil’s Depot as an option for a store on the Starship app. After students submit their orders, the food is loaded into the Starship delivery robots and sent out for delivery. Students can expect their orders to be delivered by about 10:00 a.m.
“I think it could be a really, really great solution for maybe a disabled student living on campus who is not able to make it out to the distribution to receive the food, but something that can be brought directly to them,” Pacheco said.
The team had about seven orders during the first week of the Starship pilot program, which has increased to about 18 orders during the most recent distribution event on March 19, McCoy said. Throughout the morning of distribution, 11 delivery robots could be seen traveling back and forth as they made deliveries.
Barnaby Wasson, deputy information security officer at the University Technology Office and a graduate student studying public interest technology, developed the idea of the Starship pilot program for his capstone project and proposed the idea to the Devil’s Depot last fall.
“I’m looking at the impact that cutting-edge technology can have when looking at food sustainability and its impact on student wellness and belonging and how that informs student achievement and academic success,” Wasson said.
McCoy initiated the DoorDash partnership through 2-1-1 Arizona, an information and referral services program that helps individuals and families find resources and connections to critical services like rent, health care, utilities and food assistance. DoorDash is currently partnered with 2-1-1 Arizona and works with individual food banks and pantries to help deliver free food to people.
After their last distribution event in April, McCoy said Devil’s Depot plans to review both programs to see what the next steps will be. McCoy said she sees the DoorDash program continuing in the fall and said it may also continue during the summer as it usually has three to four summer distribution events.
Social stigma can be a barrier to using on-campus food pantries, according to a 2018 study on food-insecure college students. Pacheco said she hopes the partnerships help provide more accessibility to food and lessen the stigma surrounding food pantries.
“When it comes to the stigmatization of food pantries, accessibility also plays into it,” Pacheco said. “If we are able to give students who may feel uncomfortable coming to these distributions the option of either the Starship or DoorDash kind of minimizing it a little bit more … then that’s what we have to do.”
Mindy LokBusiness and Tech Reporter
Mindy Lok is a reporter for the business and tech desk. She also works as a digital content producer for the College of Health Solutions.