Why this 'scrappy' young financier built the app that's feeding Philly's hungry - Generocity Philly

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Aug. 12, 2016 12:55 pm

Why this ‘scrappy’ young financier built the app that’s feeding Philly’s hungry

Real estate investor Megha Kulshreshtha is the brains and the architect behind Food Connect, an app that helps the food service industry donate surplus food to the hungry.

Megha Kulshreshtha.

(Photo by Tony Abraham)

“Atithi Devo Bhava.”

It’s a Hindi mantra that more or less means “treat your guests like God.” It’s also a part of who Megha Kulshreshtha is, and the impetus behind her side project Food Connect Group — the app that helped feed 9,000 Philadelphians experiencing hunger over the Democratic National Convention.

Kulshreshtha didn’t just wake up and decide to be a hunger advocate. It’s deeply ingrained in her culture and her lived experience.

“Growing up, we didn’t have much. Wasting food was never really an option,” she said, adding that no matter how little her family had, giving back to their adopted Pemberton, New Jersey community was always a priority. “This is a part of life for me. This is a part of the way we live.”

Kulshreshtha’s parents emigrated to the United States from Delhi, India when she was 4 years old, “with $40 in their pockets and three kids.” She remembers walking three miles to the local grocer to pick up food for her father because her mother couldn’t drive.

Even if she could, the only car they could have taken was the one shared between her family and a few neighbors.

"Food Connect is really just a vehicle. The real work are these people and organizations and donors."
Megha Kulshreshtha

Things are different for Kulshreshtha now. She’s a cheery-eyed real estate investor with a master’s degree from Villanova University. And Food Connect Group — which recently received public praise from Mayor Jim Kenney — is something she does on the side.

Oh, and she funds it of pocket — the app, the deliveries, costs of business — placing the founder somewhere between “social entrepreneur” and “philanthropist.”

“It was nice, but it felt surreal,” said Kulshreshtha of the public attention. “I was thinking about what deliveries would pop up and how we would handle the volume.”

That’s not surprising, considering Kulshreshtha’s obsession with logistics and analytics (for instance, the book she’s reading right now is titled “How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking“). She applies that same mentality to food insecurity issues.

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There’s a void between food surplus and populations suffering from hunger. That’s the void Kulshreshtha is looking to fill.

“The goal with this is really just to bridge that gap. It’s there. If we lived in a different world, this gap would already be filled,” she said. “But it’s not a problem just Food Connect can solve. It’s a problem everybody who cares can solve, and that’s what you saw during the DNC. There are so many organizations that came together that haven’t come together in years because there is a problem.”

That’s what excites Kulshreshtha most — convening organizations to solve a problem. 

“This conversation will be about how we keep this moving forward,” she said. “Food Connect is really just a vehicle. The real work are these people and organizations and donors.”

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