The bold proposal to transform the USPS into tool for fighting food insecurity

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The bold proposal to transform the USPS into tool for fighting food insecurity

The bold proposal to transform the USPS into tool for fighting food security (Courtesy First Class Meal Team)

Graduate students from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and the Brown School at the Washington University in St. Louis have been named the winners of the UrbanSOS: Fair Share Competition. The competition, led by AECOM and the Van Alen Institute, asked entrants to design for the sharing economy while addressing critical urban issues.

The winning entry, First Class Meal, proposes to revitalize an underutilized United States Postal Service (USPS) post office, turning it into a resource for storing and redistributing surplus food. The proposal calls for a pairing of mobile technology with the distribution network of the USPS.

(First Class Meal Team)
Food storage would be integrated into the current P.O. Box infrastructure. (Courtesy First Class Meal Team)

“We want to connect underutilized capacity within the postal system—building space, trucks and human capital resources—with the desire for increased reach and food storage capacity within food banks and agencies,” explained architecture and urban design master’s candidate Anu Samarajiva in a press release. The project “has the potential to reinvigorate the USPS and more strongly define its role as a community resource while strengthening the existing network of community food providers.”

The location of the proposal was the Market Station Post office in downtown Los Angeles. The team chose to center their project in Los Angeles for its active food culture, access to California’s farmlands, and the more than 1 million residents that lack food security. Nonprofits, who lack storage space and distribution capabilities, are the ones working with the large population of those in need. First Class Meal aims to address both of these issues while providing a new use for the many post offices which may be facing closure of consolidation in the near future.

(First Class Meal Team)
The first phase of the project would focus on storage, self-pickup, and educational space. (Courtesy First Class Meal Team)

The UrbanSOS competition drew 80 teams form 31 countries. The Washington University team received a $7,500 prize along with up to $25,000 in cash and in-kind staff support for implementing the proposal. The competition’s other recognized projects focused on producing crowd-sourced resource maps in Ecuador, waste management and temporary housing in South Africa, and pop-up restaurants and markets to serve refugee, residents, and tourists in Athens, Greece.