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AUS faculty member launches app to help stock fridges this Ramadan
Volunteers looking to provide the underprivileged with food and water this Ramadan need not look further than their smartphones, as CommunityFridge.org goes live across the UAE. A faculty member from American University of Sharjah (AUS) has launched a free mobile app that can be used to overcome the issues commonly faced by those operating or thinking of setting up a shared food fridge in their neighborhoods.
Despite the growing popularity of community food fridge initiatives across the world, several people have continued to list a number of problems related to the maintenance of the fridges. Research conducted by Ali Khawaja, Instructor in Marketing at the university's School of Business Administration (SBA), and founder of CommunityFridge.org, showed that these were issues that were present with the food fridge initiatives not just in the UAE, but around the world. The best way to resolve such issues was through a mobile app. The CommunityFridge app was officially launched in the UAE on the first day of Ramadan. Tarek AlZubair, of Synergistics, a software development company in Dubai, stepped up and developed the entire app free of cost. The app, which is available on both iOS and Andriod, is free to download on the App Store and Google Play.
Khawaja said that the inspiration for the CommunityFridge platform and app came from the President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan declaring 2017 as the Year of Giving in the UAE; and His Highness Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, announcing the launch of the UAE Food Bank.
"We call it the Global Database of Sharing," said Khawaja. "The CommunityFridge app provides a very simple, clean, and easy to use platform that can be used by anyone around the world, whether they are an individual, an organization, or a group of volunteers such as the Ramadan Sharing Fridge Initiative in Dubai. The app will not only help those that are in need, but will also aid those individuals that are interested in stocking the fridges."
"Last year, the Ramadan Sharing Fridge Initiative in Dubai drew a lot of attention, and I wanted to see how I could contribute, aside from stocking the fridges themselves. When I was looking at the Facebook page for the initiative, I noticed that every third post spoke about the difficulties in finding the fridge, and whether they were still running and properly maintained," said Khawaja. "People were using social media platforms, namely Facebook, to complain about fridges that were out of order, those that had been removed without any notice, those that were never stocked, and many other such logistical issues."
After downloading the CommunityFridge app, users can create an account, add one or more fridges to their account, and then oversee their operation. A pin will pop up which will show people which fridges are located in their neighborhood. Using the app, they can then stock up the fridge and update a running feed by stating the items they have placed. If there is a problem with the fridge, they can contact the owner and let them know about that as well.
"You only have to create an account if you want to add a fridge," Khawaja explains. "Otherwise, you can just view the locations of the fridges and select one which is closest to you. The app also allows you to classify the selected drop-off point as a fridge, a water cooler or a shelf. This is mainly because several countries with colder climates around the world don't require refrigeration units. In addition, users who manage a fridge can not only list its exact location on a map, but can also take a photo of the fridge onsite to make it easier for people to locate it."
The development team is currently already working on version 2.0 for the app, which will be launched after Ramadan. This is mainly to ensure that consumers that are new to the community fridges concept do not think that the app is only available for use during the Ramadan period. Some of the features that will be included in the later version include allowing users to bookmark their favorite fridges so that they get an instant notification on when a fridge needs to be restocked with food or beverages. Another feature that will be added in the second version of the app will allow users to search by different categories such as coolers or shelves. This will be especially helpful for travelers or visitors to a new country who run into an emergency, and might need to search for a location where they can get free water.
Khawaja's research since last year has led him to accumulate a database of community fridges in over 15 countries across the world. His team is already in contact with the various groups involved in the initiatives and are gearing up to use the app.
"Food wastage is a global phenomenon and our aim is to provide a solution that will reduce the amount of food wasted on a global scale, while ensuring that it reaches those that are most in need of it," he concluded.