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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Amazon Catalyst winner to be announced

Judges have finished evaluating 28 submissions in $10,000 contest aimed at addressing food insecurity

By Nate Sanford

Judges are preparing to announce a winner in the Amazon Catalyst Competition, which invited students and faculty to submit ideas for ending food insecurity on campus.

The winner will be awarded a total of $10,000, though the judges may also decide to split the prize between three winners, according to the contest rules. 

The judges — two Western students, two general staff and two faculty members — received a total of 28 submissions, which Western’s manager of Corporate Relations Christa Countryman said in an email was a, “very respectable number for an endeavor such as this.” 

The submissions were judged on a variety of factors, including feasibility, innovation, impact and scalability, according to Feeding Western coordinator Amber C, who served as one of the six judges. 

The contest invited proposals from any field of study. Along with the logistical challenges of providing food, participants were also asked to consider different ways to engage with students, raise awareness and decrease the stigma associated with food insecurity. 

The submissions explored a variety of solutions. 

Several submissions highlighted the ways new technology could be utilized to fight food insecurity. One entry proposed an app that would make it easier for students to find clubs or events offering free food. Another proposed a high-tech fish and vegetable farm system that would utilize newfound growing techniques to maximize food production. 

Others proposed expanding upon existing ideas, like food pantries on campus or the ability to donate leftover meal swipes at the end of a quarter. C said she was glad to see several submissions suggest expanding these programs, both of which are organized by Feeding Western. 

Some submissions took a more aggressive approach, directly challenging Amazon and highlighting the irony of the multibillion dollar company’s sponsorship of the contest. 

“Amazon should take the resources it puts into flashy charitable programs, like Amazon Catalyst, and pay its fair share of taxes instead so we have less income disparity and students can afford to buy food,” part of one submission titled “pay your share of taxes, Amazon” said.  

Another, titled “Billionaires: Stealing Food from the Poor,” proposed a nationwide wealth tax that would result in Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paying over $100 billion in taxes within at least a five year period. 

The judges have sent their chosen winner (or winners) to Amazon, who will need to approve their choice before it can be publicly announced, according to the Catalyst funding terms. C said they aim to announce the winner before the end of winter quarter. 

The winners are not required to use the prize money to launch their proposal, though the contest FAQ notes that it would be a wonderful use of the money. 

In an email, associate vice president of Academic Affairs Brian Burton said he hopes implementation of the winning idea will be attempted in some way, but the specifics will be dependent on the nature of the idea.


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