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Darla Moore School of Business

Moore School faculty members publish research to benefit food banks

Nov. 17, 2018

In 2015, Sanjay Ahire, a professor of global supply chain and operations management, and a team of five undergraduate business students developed a resource allocation model to maximize meals donation from food drives and 34 other promotional events for Harvest Hope Food Bank that revolutionized their outreach event strategy.

This strategy served as the basis of the research paper titled “Harvest Hope Food Bank Optimizes Its Promotional Strategy to Raise Donations Using Integer Programming.” The paper was published in the flagship global journal Interfaces in late September 2018 and was co-authored by Ahire and Pelin Pekgün, an associate professor of management science.

“Our ‘Outreach Optimization’ in 2015 was one of the best examples where Dr. Ahire mentored the student team (and us) to develop a comprehensive linear integer programming model to make optimal use of our resources (human, technical, equipment, and financial) to generate maximum amount of meals from promotional events,” said Denise Holland, former CEO of Harvest Hope Food Bank. “We understood the structure and use of the models because we developed them with the student team and Dr. Ahire.”

Ahire and students from the Moore School’s business process excellence course calculated the expected food and or dollar yield per outreach event that Harvest Hope hosted. They then developed an integer programming model to determine the optimal number of events per year, given the existing resources, to maximize the total annual meals yield (the number of meals that could be served using the combined food and dollar donations).

The work resulted in Harvest Hope’s capability to deliver 1.7 million additional meals per year from the donations collected during promotional events, an increase of 41 percent. Harvest Hope integrated the majority of the team’s recommendations in their resource allocation strategy in 2016 for annual planning of events. 

­­­­“You have the ability to save millions of dollars for Fortune 500 companies, but you can also use those same skills and competencies for enhancing resource and processing capabilities to make a real difference in putting the food on the table for a person who might otherwise go hungry — that is both powerful and meaningful,” Ahire said.

But the impact of the nonprofit work that Ahire’s students produced has extended far beyond the immediate and direct results.

"The students that work on these projects, they walk away completely different people," Ahire said. "They start out thinking it is only about making money and helping companies make money, but through these types of experiences, they can actually see how powerful these competencies are in changing the face of society as a whole."

Ahire and Pekgün — along with Luv Sharma, an assistant professor of management science, and Orgul Ozturk, an associate professor of economics — are expanding their research to the national level, analyzing data for more than 200 food banks across the United States to improve effectiveness of food bank operations.

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