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PennDesign students Sarai Williams, Phillip Chang and Jono Sanders created BLOSSOM Interactive as part of the Social Impact Project.

Photo: Morgan Rees / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Students were greeted by a new feature on Locust Walk last Friday, when PennDesign students unveiled a six-foot tall sculpture of a luminescent flower at the corner of 37th. The sculpture, which is the physical site of the team’s BLOSSOM Interactive project, is meant to draw attention to food insecurity in the Philadelphia area. It will be displayed on Locust Walk until September 30.

The sculpture’s translucent petals open and close in response to hits on Instagram and Twitter with ”#feedblossom”, allowing hunger-based nonprofits like the local Philabundance to interact with the Penn community online on a minute-by-minute basis.

Although the sculpture was installed less than a week ago, PennDesign students Sarai Williams, Phillip Chang and Jono Sanders have been working on the project all summer. The team created BLOSSOM Interactive as part of the Social Impact Project, a program run by PennPraxis, the research and consulting arm of the design school. Under the advisement of Julie Donofrio, PennPraxis’ managing director, the students identified a need in the area and began the lengthy process of designing the sculpture.

In 2014, one in seven people reported running out of groceries before the end of the month, equating to about 48 million or 14 percent of Americans. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s report, this number corresponds directly to U.S. poverty rates, which are 46.7 million people, or 14.8 percent.

Chang, the project’s design and fabrication leader, said the idea of incorporating social media seemed natural. “It’s such a great outlet...but I don’t feel like it’s being utilized,” he said, adding, “I was tired of hearing about the Kardashians.” The project uses social media to promote nonprofits and draw attention to hunger in the community, a use very different from the platform’s traditional popular culture focus.

Chang, Williams and Sanders partnered with four nonprofits for the project—Philabundance, Broad Street Ministry, Coalition Against Hunger and The Food Trust—all of which work to reduce food insecurity in the Philadelphia area and across the nation. The plaques at the base of the flower are changed to reflect different nonprofits monitoring the social media posts generated with ”#feedblossom”.

The local charity Philabundance was represented first, monitoring the social media response to BLOSSOM Interactive for the project’s first four days. Philabundance is well known in the city for its works toward ending hunger in communities in the Delaware Valley, but Philabundance’s Digital Media Coordinator Brittany Barbato said that “with BLOSSOM, the audience we were able to reach was brand new.” The project allowed the nonprofit to “capture students on the Penn campus in real time talking about hunger.”

Since September is Hunger Action Month, nonprofits like Philabundance are working harder than ever to draw attention to food security issues in the community. One in five Philadelphians are food insecure, which means that they don’t know where their next meal will come from.

BLOSSOM is an innovative project, but it has a simple aim: “We’re using the sculpture as an opportunity to give a voice to these nonprofits,” Sanders says. “What we want to do is start the conversation.”

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