For community members looking to enjoy a free meal, a new resource is available. Ben Levine, a first-year graduate student studying geography, created a map of Binghamton and Johnson City with indicators marking off where free meals are available throughout the week.
Levine’s “Community Meal Maps” mark his attempt to help fight hunger and food insecurity in the local community. His map shows the locations of places that area residents can go to receive a free meal and when they can get it. Levine started his map last winter, and with the help of several local nonprofit organizations, he began printing and distributing his maps.
“I am also working to map food pantry clients for a local nonprofit, who oversees most [food pantries] called CHOW,” Levine said. “I came to this idea largely as a result of my interactions with some people who are homeless or who have been homeless, and I was also really interested in using what I was learning in geography for as [many] local purposes as possible.”
To make the maps, Levine traveled to each location, tried the food they offer and marked when they are open and offering meals.
“I went to every single one of these meals to make sure I had accurate information about their times, their locations, if they were closed at any time during the month or year,” Levine said.
With the financial backing of several area religious organizations and Binghamton University groups, such as the Broome County Council of Churches, Off Campus College, the Office of the Dean of Students and the United Presbyterian Church, Levine is hoping that he can make a difference for those who want a place to enjoy a meal in a social setting. The maps also include places where community members can take a shower, get clothing or play a game of table tennis. Levine’s map has been published on BU Off Campus College’s website.
“I went to a number of churches and nonprofits and educational offices, and the church Downtown, United Presbyterian, printed the initial run and I had this idea to laminate the copies so the [assistant dean for off-campus programs and services], Milton Chester, here at Binghamton [University] paid for that,” Levine said. “Some places have clothing, some places have showers. I found that the Anglicans are really big into pingpong and pool, board games. You know not everyone has access to a board game lying around or a pingpong table. I think that is important to know.”
Levine said he has already started to see positive feedback from the community. The maps have been popular among community members, and Levine hopes to expand his maps to include other local areas.
“The feedback has been really positive,” Levine said. “I had someone on the [South] Washington Street [Parabolic] Bridge in Binghamton say that these would go like hotcakes, so that was kind of fun to hear. I had someone dance in their wheelchair, which was really fun. People have been really appreciative and welcoming to this sort of idea and really encouraging another version because I still have to map a few other areas.”