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Alexander Epstein, New York, NY
Junior at Temple University
“Idealistic”… “Driven”… “Alex makes things happen.” These words and phrases have been used to describe Temple University Junior, Alexander Epstein. As a high school freshman he rarely thought about hunger or food injustice, but a 2006 school trip to New Orleans reshaped his perspective. He was shocked to find that a year after Katrina, the devastated Lower 9th Ward still had no grocery stores, or a single source of fresh produce for miles. Frustrated by the lack of progress, Alex launched NewYork2NewOrleans, a youth-led non-profit organization created to bring young New Yorkers to New Orleans in support of the Lower 9th Ward’s rebuilding efforts. His work there helped transform four vacant lots into urban farms that now generate 3,000 pounds of organic produce weekly. Alex made more than 25 presentations to high schools and raised in excess of $40,000 in funds in the first two years alone, with more than $80,000 in funds raised to date. In addition, he worked to create or co-found a number of other service organizations including: OurSchooolAtBlairGrocery, YouthCoalition4CommunityAction, and more recently Harlem Harvest. During his freshman year at Temple Alex co-founded Philadelphia Urban Creators, a youth-driven organization that works in collaboration with residents and community organizations in North Central Philadelphia to develop neighborhoods from the ground up. One of the projects that he spearheaded there – Life Do Grow – features a two-acre plot of vacant land that is being converted into a fully accessible community-based model of urban sustainability. Among its many functions, it is an active urban farm producing fresh, organic, locally-grown produce and it also operates by engaging students throughout Philadelphia in interactive workshops where they analyze the relationships between food and identity, energy and economics, the environment and society.
Despite the scope of the challenge Alex observes, “I have found that food is our world’s greatest equalizer and that if we are to eradicate hunger, we must all act at the local level.” View Alex's story.
Rebecca Fawns, Corvallis, MT
Senior at Hamilton High School and Valley Oak
Rebecca Fawn’s idea for Community Cooking Connections first came to her after she was invited to speak at a 4-H event about family mealtime. The twelfth-grade student from Corvallis, Montana was convinced that having teens run a similar event would be an effective way to increase involvement—she was right. Since creating Community Cooking Connections in 2005, Rebecca has managed volunteers that have contributed more than 9,100 hours and served more than 7,000 meals to school-age youth and families in need. Leading a team of both adults and teen volunteers, Rebecca has helped raise more than $30,000 for Community Cooking Connections through bake sales, grants, awards and just by sharing the story of her work with others who were moved to make donations. Her work has also inspired award recognition, including the Prudential Community Service Award, 4-H State Leadership & Nutrition Award, a Gold Level Presidential Community Award and twice being name a STOP Hunger Regional Honoree in 2010 and 2011.
Rebecca truly lives up to her program’s motto to “serve with a smile” and explains, “I believe everyone deserves to be served with a smile and warmly welcomed to a healthy meal no matter the situation.”
Peyton Medick, Weston, WI
Eighth Grader at Idea Charter School
The journey in her fight to end hunger began after Peyton Medick crossed paths with a young boy suffering the effects of hunger. She was only eight years old at the time, but the experience so moved her that she vowed to feed the hungry in her Weston, Wisconsin community. It also led to the 2007 founding of Peyton’s Promise, which evolved from a single food drive to what is now a vast food distribution network that has collected more than 60 tons of food and $20,000 for 11 food pantries nationwide. An estimated 5,000 families per month receive food supplied to these pantries by Peyton’s Promise. Peyton’s organization coordinates a variety of activities including year-round t-shirt and bracelet sales that fund the purchase of holiday hams and turkeys, canned food drives and even a youth mobilization program called Peyton’s Advocates, which motivates and empowers students to address the issue of hunger. For her 13th birthday last year, Peyton invited friends to stand with her outside of a local grocery store, where she and friends provided “food donation shopping lists” to customers going into the store. The strategy was a huge success with the store selling out of several products that were eventually delivered to the local food program.
Peyton understands that the key to success is collaboration. She lives by the motto: “If everyone does a little bit, no one will have to do a lot.”
Camille Posard, Encinitas, CA
Senior at Carlsbad High School
Camille Posard knows the power of a well-told story to effect change. The twelfth-grade student from Encinitas, California is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and anti-hunger advocate who turned a journalism class project into a phenomenal vehicle for hunger awareness, advocacy and fundraising. In a news report for her broadcast journalism class project, Camille captured the struggle among families of active duty military personnel including Marines and Navy corpsmen stationed in her community. She eventually secured $66,000 in funding to produce the documentary, “One in Seven.” Her film has been screened more than 80 times including at the Global Peace Film Festival, San Diego Film Festival and it won the California competition at the Yosemite Film Festival. In addition, hunger agencies now use it as a resource for raising awareness and funding. The young filmmaker’s work also extends beyond the screen. As co-founder and vice president of the non-profit Donate, Don’t Dump, Camille and her sister work to minimize edible food waste by restaurants and grocery markets in San Diego County. Donate, Don’t Dump educates businesses about food waste and provides opportunities for them to donate surplus food to those in need.
Clearly moved by the level of need, Camille recalls, “The scale of human suffering was staggering in every city we filmed. After learning that 96 billion pounds of edible food go into U.S. landfills every year, my compassion turned to outrage, and I began recruiting other teens.”
Ruthi Solari, Solana Beach, CA
Graduate Student at Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center
Every great solution begins with a question. It was no different for Ruthi Solari, who before founding SuperFood Drive asked, “What if we used food drives as opportunities to collect healthy food for people in need?” As a nutritionist and student at Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, Ruthi quickly understood that food banks struggle just to “fill stomachs” as she was told – often with no focus on nutrition. With that understanding a cause was born. SuperFood Drive began as a project within the United Nations San Diego Chapter where Ruthi was a board member, but she eventually saw the benefit of making it a stand-alone entity. She took it upon herself to create a 501(c)3 non-profit, pulled together a team of volunteers, established a Board of Directors, and launched partnerships with organizations like Feeding America San Diego and San Diego Food Bank. Within the first two years SuperFood Drive helped collect over 30,000 pounds of healthy, nutritious non-perishables. The launch last year of a related venture, SuperKids for SuperFoods, added a youth engagement element that raises nutrition awareness and calls on youth to host their own SuperFood Drive to collect healthy food for the local community. Ruthi has given more than 6,000 hours of personal volunteer time to her cause and raised $35,000 for her organization.
“What I would communicate to young people is this: ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ I have been inspired by Gandhi’s quote since I was very young and my experience with SuperFood Drive is a living example of how we really can make a difference.”