Biomedical engineering senior creates website pinpointing food resources during COVID-19 pandemic
Friday, April 3, 2020

Thousands of K-12 students rely on meals served at schools across Johnson County—schools that have now been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to connect students, parents, and other community members with resources to help them find meals, University of Iowa undergraduate Russell Martin created a website that maps food and meals available at area schools, food banks, and soup kitchens.

University of Iowa biomedical engineering student Russell Martin
Russell Martin

“When I saw that a group of college students had created a similar site in California, I thought it would be a great resource to have something like this for our community,” says Martin, a senior in the Roy J. Carver Department of Biomedical Engineering. “Schools that are closed for instruction are still serving meals, but I felt it was important to let K–12 students know where they could get meals that might be closer to their homes.”

Martin combined data using Google Maps and Google Sheets to create a map that features 41 sites in Iowa City and its surrounding communities. In addition to K–12 schools, food pantries, and soup kitchens, Martin included sites where individuals can apply for the state’s Food Assistance program, including WIC and SNAP. To help spread the word about his site, Martin reached out to local media, nonprofits, and local government. United Way of Johnson and Washington Counties pointed Martin to a number of sites that are now featured on the website.

Visit the website

Food and meals are available at area schools, food banks, and soup kitchens in the Iowa City area. Find those specific locations at the Iowa City Area Free Meal Map.

“In addition to schools closing, food banks and soup kitchens are also closing or reducing hours and many people have lost their jobs,” says Martin. “Helping people find their next meal serves a need which everyone can support. People should not be hungry.”

Martin plans on keeping the website going while schools are closed, knowing how many students and families rely on these meals. He also plans to create and distribute a guide detailing how this map was made so that individuals from other cities can make similar resources for their own communities.

As a student in the College of Engineering, Martin has been active in undergraduate research and outreach activities. He recently received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program award and has finalized plans to attend Stanford University to pursue a PhD in mechanical engineering. As he moves forward with his education and career, Martin will always remember Iowa City and the University of Iowa as his home.

“I love Iowa City,” says Martin. “Having spent so much time at the university and in the community, this website is just one way I am trying to give back.”