By Kate Toporski, CFE Content Development Intern
Editor’s Note: CARt and the other members of this summer’s TechArb cohort will present at the TechArb Showcase on Monday, Aug. 29: 7-10 p.m. at the Ross Colloquium.
Did you know that Detroit is a food desert?
No, not your typical desert with miles of sand, blistering sun, and lack of water, but more so, an inadequacy of grocery store food within a reasonable distance of one’s home.
“Food deserts” are geographic areas where access to affordable, healthy food options are practically nonexistent. According the the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, about 23.5 million people live in food deserts, and nearly half of those people are also low-income.
To escape these food deserts, some people are waiting an hour and a half for buses or taxis- which is neither time nor cost effective.
So, how are families living in food deserts, such as the Greater Detroit Area, supposed to lead healthy lives when their main source of food is the Speedway off of East Jefferson Ave?
This is where CARt comes into play.
Last year, six University of Michigan students came together in the School of Public Health’s Social Innovation in Action Competition to fill a desperate need for access to food in a neighboring city.
Think a grocery store rewards card– but for more than just gas. When a
consumer buys groceries at, say Meijer, they receive 10 cents off per gallon of gas that they buy from the Meijer gas station. This system is incentive-based, and works fabulously for both the store and the consumer. Meijer is receiving regular business, while the customer saves on the cost of transportation to get to the store.
CARt aimed to play off of this system, benefitting both the store and the customer in the process.
“We started off working at a store on 8 Mile,” says CART Co-Founder and TechArb Fellow, Stacey Matlen. “We had our own ‘Call Center’ in the back of the store, where people could call, ask for an Uber or Lyft, and then pay us in whatever form they desired.”
But when the time for payment comes, the CARt user only has to pay half– this is where the reward system comes into play.
With customers only paying half the cost of transportation and the supermarket or store paying the other half, both parties benefit– whether that be in the form of reaching new customers or simply easy, cheap access to foods that can help a family grow.
While food is a scarcity in these lower income areas, so are smart phones and credit cards. The CARt system acts inclusively to help those affected escape the food desert. And on top of the variety of payment methods, the customers only had to pay for half of the ride. This system, which the store expensed half the cost of the ride, was allowing for more customers to access food. Mutually beneficial, incredibly brilliant.
Similar to how Medicaid reimburses patients for their trips to and from the doctor’s office, CARt allows for community members to access the things that they need to simply survive. Twenty-five percent of Detroit citizens don’t have access to a vehicle, which leaves ¼ of the population hungry and unhealthy on any given night of the week.
“We aim to give customers everything they need; we thrive off of the user’s energy,” says Matlen.
Recently, CARt has taken part in the Ann Arbor Health Hackathon, where 13 people helped develop a prototype website/application, as well as being part of the TechArb summer cohort**. The CARt team is currently taking part in a three-month pilot at a local Meijer and two other stores in Detroit.
With a passion to public health and social entrepreneurship, Stacey and the rest of the CARt team are drastically improving the food and transportation outlook by breaking boundaries in Detroit’s affordable food scene.
CARt is growing daily, as is the need for access to healthier food options in deserts such as Detroit. If you’re interested in taking part in the growth of CARt, contact Stacey Matlen at email@example.com.
**Note: CARt has recently been accepted into the Grand Rapids accelerator- Seamless! Seamless is one of our stops on the upcoming GREAT trek. Meet teams like CARt and other esteemed Michigan students and alumni at our GREAT reception. RSVP here for a night of good beer and conversation at the Grand Rapids Brewing Company.