NITHIN PARTHASARATHY, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT
Hi, I’m Nithin Parthasarathy. I am a High School Student at Northwood High School, Irvine, CA and I’m passionate about sustainability and food equity for all. Growing up, I was always told to not waste food and be grateful for what we have. I remember the days I would come back from school and my grandmother would ask me to finish the leftovers from my lunch box first. While eating at a local Bruegger’s bagel store, I saw surplus bagels being thrown away at the end of the day. These were good quality bagels, but simply made in excess. When I saw so much food being wasted at the stores and restaurants during the times of widespread hardships due to COVID19, I reached out to several organizations to see if they would be willing to take those bagels.
Unfortunately, the lockdown and the distress caused by COVID-19 posed a lot of hurdles. During lockdown, I saw on the news how the novel coronavirus has upended every aspect of modern society, especially the food system. Farmers were being forced to discard unprecedented amounts of food surplus because of the closure of schools, restaurants, and hotels. On the one hand they were killing their livestock and dumping thousands of gallons of over produced milk and plowing perfectly ripe vegetables back into the soil, while on the other hand, COVID-19 was having an unprecedented impact on the U.S. employment and economy with the unemployment rate already above 15 percent, higher than at any point since the Great Depression. So, I decided to accelerate the bagel pick up despite the circumstances and to try and reach out to more cafes, shops and restaurants.
Getting approval to pick up and distribute food to different non-profit organizations that were committed to help the local community seemed like an unpopular idea at first, especially from the fear of unknown caused by the pandemic. It required a lot of phone calls, emails, and advocacy so that store managers could understand that many people were struggling with food insecurity, and that I am trying to do something about it, and to find the right organizations who welcomed this help. I also had to overcome a lot of questions with regards to health risk concerns and had to be very careful in designing this initiative so the stores were convinced that the food items collected would be donated carefully. Initially, I felt like I was under a lot of stress to prove that reducing food waste could help address food insecurity, and to put the safety of consumers first. I had to clarify that there was no hidden agenda but simply the motivation to help. In overcoming the challenges, I had to be very patient and persistent. I had to work hard and trust my abilities to lead and implement this initiative. It was upsetting to see that some stores were hesitant to donate but were fine throwing the good food away. I thank my parents’ unconditional support in this initiative, and I am proud to say we rescued over $170,000 value of food waste so far and served thousands of people in need during COVID19.
We have donated bagels and Starbucks variety food items to different organizations and shelters that serve abused women and children, veterans, seniors, high risk patients, college students, and families with food insecurity. I am currently recruiting student leaders and volunteers who could help expand and sustain this initiative in the future. I want to inspire others to do the same and would like to work with communities across the country. I would like to build an app which could be used to connect people to local resources, while also providing ways that organizations can offer additional support. This is a sustainable initiative that will help to reduce food waste and hunger beyond the pandemic.
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AMITA RAMANUJAN, VICE PRESIDENT OF VOLUNTEER OPERATIONS
How can we recklessly waste food when people are hungry? Hi I’m Amita, a student at Portola High School in Irvine, CA and the current Director of Volunteer Operations at Zero Waste Food Initiative. I was surprised to learn that many of the food chains that we regularly frequent, throw away their excess food. Unfortunately, this food ends up in landfills. The Zero Waste Initiative rescues this food and donates to people in need instead of letting it go to waste. Food security has always been a huge problem, but due to our current situation with COVID-19, this problem has worsened. Many people are struggling and a record breaking 26 million Americans left unemployed, which got me very concerned at how the needy people are surviving! People have been told to stay at home, leaving less members in the community who are able to help those who need help. This has led to a situation where those in need are receiving less aid despite being put in harsher circumstances. I felt driven to do my part by helping my community to alleviate some of the suffering caused by food shortage, something we commonly take for granted. I have always been passionate about reducing food waste and food insecurity, so I was thrilled with the opportunity to pitch in to my community by getting involved with this zero waste initiative. My goal is to raise awareness and support the message to decrease food waste to make a positive impact on our community.
NITYA PARTHASARATHY, Director of Technology and Founding Board Member, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
KATHLEEN PAN, Director of Outreach, Northwood High School
CELESTE WEBB, Director of Volunteers, Northwood High School
AARON CHOU, Volunteer, Northwood High School
DAVID XING, Volunteer, Northwood High School
Richard Lyu, Portola High School