13-Year-Old Discovers a Way to Combat Hunger in America

McKenna Greenleaf Faulk leapt over her school district’s red tape to get food to the people who needed it the most.

Hunger Crisis, Hunger in America
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

McKenna Greenleaf Faulk knows her hunger statistics.

In a recent interview with TakePart, she explained that one in six Americans are at risk of hunger. Meanwhile, this country wastes about 40 percent of all edible food. If Americans wasted just 15 percent less food, it would be enough to feed 25 million people. Not to mention how it would help the environment since nearly 33 million tons of waste end up in landfills.

“The average American wastes about 28 to 43 pounds of food a month,” McKenna, 13, says. “If we wasted less food, we could feed more people.”

That’s why she and some classmates at Thomas Starr King Middle School in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles are working to curb food waste. They have launched 37 Degrees From Hunger at their school and hope to become a model for other schools across the country.

“There was all of this unwanted food lying on the table, and we thought why not take that and give it to someone who needs it, like to the homeless people in the neighborhood who may want it,” she says.

Their project was spurred by a teacher’s assignment to create a community-service project by identifying a problem and solving it.

As McKenna soon learned, taking on a problem like hunger is no easy task. She was told that a similar project had already been attempted by some students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Their program didn’t go too well after a homeless man got ill from food that had been left out at room temperature, and the school district was sued.

I can’t start off big with the entire population, but I can make a change in my community and maybe that can be a message for everyone.

But McKenna seemed to think there had to be a way for the idea to work.

“I said, ‘How about a refrigerator?’ ” she says.

That way the food would be kept at the ideal temperature—37 degrees. The food would then be put in coolers when it was time for a homeless shelter representative to pick it up for transport.

McKenna maneuvered through the red tape at the school district level and gained permission for the project. The students raised money for the refrigerator and received a grant from Lowe’s.

The food that is being sent to shelters is cafeteria food that has never been opened, like milk, bananas, and even pizza. It should go somewhere other than the trash can, McKenna says.

“Americans don’t have a food culture because we eat everything,” she says. “We just eat and eat, and we take more than we can handle. We aren’t even grateful for the food that we have, and this extra food could be given to other people who are grateful for it. People who are less fortunate could use this food.”

The students are spreading the word about their project through a website and word-of-mouth. When school starts again, McKenna is hoping that a local city councilman will come see their project so they can discuss the benefits of other schools adapting this model.

“I can’t start off big with the entire population, but I can make a change in my community and maybe that can be a message for everyone,” she says.

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