Hear 2022 Stephen J. Brady Scholar Shreya Shivakumar's Perspective
September is Hunger Action Month, the perfect time to give deeper thought to actions we can all take to fight hunger in our communities. We want to take a breath, to consider not just what and how much we’re doing, but how we’re doing it. Because we know hunger sadly plagues too many Americans all year long.
More than 10% of U.S. households experience food insecurity. And roughly 15% of households with children and almost 28% of households headed by single women struggle with hunger, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Recognizing the severity of the problem, President Joe Biden is hosting The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition & Health this fall, with the aim to end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity.
We find strength and purpose in our community of anti-hunger advocates, especially the next generation, which is bringing fresh energy and innovation to the food insecurity front. Young leaders like Shreya Shivakumar, a sophomore at Barnard College who founded a nonprofit, Nourish America, to provide food banks with healthy, allergy-friendly, organic, culturally affirming food donations.
Sodexo’s Stop Hunger Foundation was proud to honor Shreya as a 2022 Stephen J. Brady Scholar this year. Here, she discusses — in her own words — her personal experience and how we can come together to defeat hunger.
Walking through the aisles of my local food pantry as a volunteer, I couldn't help but notice lost opportunities everywhere I turned.
At first glance, the fully stocked shelves and heaping piles of food donations indicated the pantry was successful in alleviating hunger. But looking closer, I noticed unhealthy, highly-processed, sugar and fat-laden products — food that would be placed in the hands of young children eagerly awaiting their next meal.
As a volunteer, I felt frustrated by my complicity in a broken system that fails to ensure the well-being of the families it intends to help. My vivid memories of experiencing childhood food insecurity while growing up in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood gave me empathy for the anxieties of families facing hardship.
I understood the barriers to accessing organic and nutritious foods that fit one's unique needs, and how under-resourced communities of color, in particular, are disproportionately burdened with hunger.
Determined to help other children escape my experience, I resolved to work towards a future in which no child is denied the right to sufficient nutritious and safe food.
At 15 years old, I embarked on a journey with the intention to nourish — not simply feed — every child with an abundant variety of healthy foods. I founded Nourish America, a national non-profit organization providing organic, nutritious and allergy-friendly foods to families in need.
Nourish America's approach to fighting food insecurity is centered on the families we support, whether they have children with food allergies, require culturally appropriate options or simply seek healthy, nutrient-dense foods.
I collaborate with food banks, university food pantries and nonprofits in three states to distribute organic and allergy-friendly foods to people in need. From hosting our Notes for Nourish benefit concert fundraisers to launching anti-hunger social media advocacy campaigns, Nourish America is building a movement of young people passionate about ending hunger for all.
Nourish America's efforts to bridge the gap in access to organic and allergy-safe foods come at a time when food insecurity remains historically high. Many families are still grappling with the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the rapid rise in inflation has parents worrying about putting food on the table. This fall, millions of college students will return to campus not knowing where their next meal will come from.
So, what can we do together?
We can donate healthy, nutritious food to local food banks and pantries, opting for fresh, local produce whenever possible. We can donate foods free of common allergens (such as gluten-free), kid-friendly organic snacks and foods with different cultural influences. (And if you’re unsure what items are most popular with the people your food bank serves, ask the staff for suggestions!)
A good rule is to donate the kind of healthy, high-quality food you would feed your own family.
Only through collaborative approaches to food insecurity, rooted in inclusivity and compassion, can we champion the right to nutritious, safe food for every American and finally do better for our children.
Want to learn more about donating healthy foods to your local food bank? Check out Stop Hunger’s Commonly Requested Donation Items.