- Associated Press - Saturday, April 23, 2016

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - What could a high-schooler do - that hadn’t been done before - to help fight hunger across Montana?

Flathead High School junior Sophia Skwarchuk answered this question through technology, teaching herself to write computer code and writing an Android app called MontanaEats, the Daily Inter Lake reported (https://bit.ly/241SqEZ).

MontanaEats consolidates the state’s hunger resources and other aid, making them accessible to anyone. Through the app, people can find contact information and hours for food pantries and food banks throughout the state by city. The app also includes information on other assistance programs such as backpack programs, along with hotlines and helplines.

Skwarchuk, a member of the Governor and First Lady Youth Leadership Council, created the app as a service project.

“What this app does is essentially make it easier for people to find hunger resources and resources related to low-income aid on their phones,” Skwarchuk said at the formal launch of the app at ImagineIF Kalispell after an introduction by Gov. Steve Bullock.

“Childhood hunger is a solvable issue in Montana. It’s part of the reason my wife and I created the Governor and First Lady Youth Leadership Council with 20 middle- and high-school students across our state,” Bullock said, calling members the “rock stars” of fighting childhood hunger.

April 11-17 marked the second annual statewide Fight Childhood Hunger Week in conjunction with Global Youth Service Day. Council members started more than 30 projects in 16 communities to increase awareness of childhood hunger, such as starting weekend backpack food programs, school breakfast programs and school food pantries.

“These students are committing this week to really making a difference for our state’s youngest learners,” Bullock said later, adding, “I encourage everybody to find an event they can participate in. You can also show your support for Fight Childhood Hunger Week by wearing orange tomorrow for the statewide Wear Orange Wednesday campaign.”

The library was a fitting location for Skwarchuk to introduce her app to the community. She used it as a symbol of what her app is meant to do: bring information and resources together in one place for people to access.

“It’s so important to have a place where people can come together in a community to get the resources that they need and the library around us is a wonderful example of this,” Skwarchuk said.

It was also the place where she checked out the book to learn coding.

Although she didn’t have any prior experience or knowledge of computer coding, she had the initiative to teach herself how so she could reach her peers, Bullock noted.

“She turned to the media-driven world to help others,” Bullock said. “For her, the app seemed like a less-daunting and more familiar way for younger generations to seek assistance.”

Skwarchuk said coding sounds difficult, but she now believes that many people can learn how to do it.

She worked on the app, amassing all the contact information and other aid resources, from December through February.

She consulted with Lisa Bullock, who knows how to code and is an information technology project manager. Gov. Bullock said his wife was “blown away” by Skwarchuk’s app design.

Through the Bullocks, Skwarchuk said she was also able to get additional resources that she couldn’t locate online.

Eventually, Skwarchuk wants to improve the app by adding maps and creating the ability for people to call a number with the press of a button. She even has set her sights on an app that covers all food pantries in every state.

“I would love to make a hunger app to reach all 50 states,” Skwarchuk said.

For more information, visit www.FightChildhoodHunger.com.

The MontanaEats app is available on Google Play at https://bit.ly/23sKfF1.


Information from: Daily Inter Lake, https://www.dailyinterlake.com

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