Hungry? There's a local app for that: Mom provides food delivery for boarding school students

Boarding school mom launches food delivery service

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SHEFFIELD — Not every restaurant in Berkshire County has delivery service, and if you're a student at a boarding school, there's a limit to the number of times that you can be off-campus. Due to these restrictions, students interested in ordering food at nearby restaurants and having it delivered are usually out of luck.

This is a problem that Kim Widener is working to correct. The boarding school mom created MealGopher, an app that currently provides restaurant delivery service to two Berkshire-area boarding schools, and may expand to local hospitals, senior centers and colleges in the manner of similar, more established national services like UberEats and GrubHub.

MealGopher launched in January at the Berkshire School in Sheffield and in February at the Darrow School in New Lebanon, N.Y. It is expected to be available soon for students at the Salisbury School in Salisbury, Conn., a short distance from the Massachusetts state line. The launch date for Salisbury School has yet to be announced.

So far, MealGopher has been available mostly at Berkshire School; the service started at Darrow Feb. 25, but as of now can only be accessed one day a week. As of mid-February, MealGopher had received a little over 400 app downloads at Berkshire, which has 400 students, and was consistently averaging between 15 and 25 orders per day.

The app allows students to order dinner items between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Deliveries take place between 7:15 and 7:45, although Widener is working on extending nighttime delivery to as late as 10. The later hours have yet to be implemented because the restaurants MealGopher works with all close around 9.

Four restaurants are currently involved in the service: the Marketplace Kitchen Table and Baba Louie's in Great Barrington; Shiro Kitchen & Asian Market in Sheffield; and The White Heart Inn in Salisbury, Conn. A fifth restaurant, Bash Bish Brew & Que in Sheffield, is going to sign on.

The central idea behind MealGopher is to provide efficiency through bulk ordering. Drivers, known as "gophers," pick the ordered food items at the four participating eateries all at once, then make one trip to each school to drop them off.

Widener, who lives in Salisbury, Conn. came up with the idea based on her own experiences. Her son attends Indian Mountain, a boarding school in nearby Lakeville, Conn.

"I have a child in a boarding school about 3 miles away, constantly calling me to bring over sandwiches, pizzas," she said.

"MealGopher gives the students the opportunity to receive higher-end foods like sushi and gourmet pizza through delivery that they were unable to have delivered to the school before," said Kristina Splawn, Berkshire School's associate dean of students and director of community service. "Students are able to go into town on certain days through our town trips but they cannot just leave campus and pick up food whenever they want. They can, however, order food outside the academic day, on weeknights and weekends."

Salisbury School is looking forward to the service.

"While the app is not yet here at Salisbury, we're sure our boys will enjoy the service," said Shana Stalker, Salisbury School's director of communications.

"Our dining service staff does a tremendous job at feeding everyone tasteful and healthy meals but there remains an opportunity for specialty food delivery that many on campus will appreciate later in the evening,"she said.

NOT AN OVERNIGHT PROCESS

Widener was already running a lifestyle service called "Berkshire Valet" when she began developing MealGopher last August. Berkshire Valet performs tasks like preparing homes for visitors, including stocking them with food, before they arrive.

It also provides transportation for Berkshire School students. She had already developed a working relationship with the school, and that helped her greatly when it came time to pitch her idea.

"I was told: 'We're going to you a shot because you don't deal with cash and because you do background checks on your drivers,'" Widener said.

So Berkshire School became the testing group for the new app.

"You guys are the guinea pigs," Widener said she told school administrators.

Without a background in computer science, Widener turned to the freelance service Fiverr in order to physically develop the MealGopher app. Through Fiverr, she was connected to app developer TecJaunt, which is based in Pakistan. Working with TecJaunt proved to be a challenge because its location left Widener with only a five hour daily window to contact company officials. But despite this, Widener said she was happy with the app and how it functions, especially how it allows her to quickly modify menu items and how it efficiently connects drivers with orders.

A few glitches occurred at Berkshire School the first week MealGopher was available. The app has already been updated several times since it launched.

MealGopher currently has four part-time drivers who are paid by the hour, and don't receive tips. This payment method differs from the one developed by UberEats where drivers are independent contractors who work their own hours, and are paid by demand. Prices for each delivery are set by Widener. There is some flexibility in the pricing because all deliveries are in bulk.

Widener would like to expand the app to other schools and two hospitals — Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington and Sharon Hospital in Sharon, Conn. Making the app available in hospitals would cater more to a lunch time crowd, she said.

She's also interested in expanding MealGopher to area colleges, with Williams College an intended target, and to summer camps.

MealGopher can be downloaded from either the Apple App Store or Google Play.


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