As the COVID-19 pandemic’s disastrous effects on joblessness and the economy spread across Southern California over the past year, donations to food banks grew exponentially to meet the expanding need in the community.
Little attention has been paid to the strain put on food banks to deliver the goods. That’s where Joshua Fuentes, a Loyola Marymount University graduate student in systems engineering, comes in. Fuentes is tackling the problem of how to improve the efficiency of a food bank at Inland Vineyard Church in Riverside.
Fuentes is a four-plus-one student, who entered the yearlong graduate program in Systems Engineering after completing his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at LMU. The church distributes food staples to 400 community members each Sunday. Using his skills in mechanical engineering and LEAN project improvement, Fuentes is developing plans to help the food bank store expanding inventory and distribute it more efficiently.
“We really like to take the learning and apply it to a real-world problem,” says Claire Leon, Ph.D., senior lecturer in systems engineering, who served as Fuentes’ advisor for the planning stage of his capstone project. “This is a very practical project that allows Joshua to apply all the tools and techniques he learned in the program.”
The church has developed short-term solutions to its expanding inventory, storing donations from Starbucks and Ralphs in temporarily vacant classrooms.
But Fuentes’ work will offer permanent changes to improve efficiency. Although he expects some work on enhancements to increase efficiency will begin in February, he’ll deliver his final recommendations in May at the end of his yearlong capstone project.
The 23-year-old is an international student from the Philippines, who was educated in Denmark and China while his family traveled for work. His father graduated from a LMU sister Jesuit school in the Philippines, and Fuentes met an LMU recruiter at a college fair. Once he visited the campus, it felt like the right choice.
The opportunity to grow afforded by LMU’s small size is one of the things Fuentes likes best about the university.
“It’s much easier to form a group of people and do things,” he says. “I helped form one of LMU’s clubs to create a hybrid rocket. Experiences like that are hard to come by at bigger schools.”
All photos credit: Inland Vineyard Church, Micah Emerine.