Stopping Hunger at Its Roots: The Food Security Club

Look into a club that helps out people in need while also reducing food waste from the Stuyvesant cafeteria.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Ellen Ching Lee

Like many native New Yorkers, Stuyvesant students are used to witnessing the effects of homelessness and food insecurity as they pass those affected by these issues on the street every day. But for newcomers to the city, this quietly accepted reality can be a big surprise. “I moved here right before freshman year, and I saw many problems I had never seen before, like homelessness,” senior and founder of the Food Security Club Skai Nzeuton said. Nzeuton was especially bothered that welfare and support programs were not more effective in helping city residents break the cycle of homelessness and food insecurity. “I was extremely frustrated when I saw the same homeless person taking the train every day,” Nzeuton added. At the same time, he started to notice the absurd amount of excess food in the school cafeteria that was thrown out each week.

Nzeuton realized that he could donate this leftover food to different organizations, which would deliver it directly to underprivileged communities. He decided to found the Stuyvesant Food Security Club in order to harness the power of the student body in organizing food donations and deliveries. But before the club could recruit members, Nzeuton realized that he would need to forge partnerships with local organizations that would accept food from the school. “I looked up a list of local organizations, and basically cold-e-mailed all of them,” Nzeuton explained. Finally, he received a response from Dan Zauderer, a middle school teacher who is the founder of the nonprofit Grassroots Grocery. Zauderer was motivated to start his own organization after discovering that only one in four New Yorkers without a sufficient food supply has access to a food pantry, where fresh, free food is distributed to those in need. Grassroots Grocery works to combat this issue by establishing a network of volunteers bringing their neighbors fresh food in every borough. Volunteers serve their communities by helping out with everything from food pantries to sidewalk fridges. Grassroots Grocery’s goal, as stated on their website, is to bring the pantries to the people, a sentiment that is shared by the Stuyvesant Food Security Club.

When Zauderer responded to Nzeuton’s e-mail, he was particularly interested in how Nzeuton planned to change the DOE’s rigid policies on food waste. “Zauderer himself had struggled to [work through inflexible systems], but on the outside world,” Nzeuton said. This was the part of the process where Nzeuton had to really think outside the box. He realized that many students fail at getting approval for their initiatives because they start talking to those with the most power right away. “I decided to go bottom-up. Instead of talking directly to Principal Yu, I first talked to one of my teachers, Dr. Greenwald, and then also the lunch ladies and the cook because they see the problems [of food waste] first-hand,” Nzeuton recounted. Later, when he approached other faculty members, they were more inclined to approve his proposal because he already had a good idea of how he would carry out the club’s plans. By contacting more accessible people first, Nzeuton was able to get the permission he needed to begin operations.

All of these logistical processes occurred before the Food Security Club was established last year. Now, it boasts more than 50 members who conduct weekly food drop-offs to several pantries across the city. “Every day, we collect food like fruits and vegetables at a table in the cafeteria [and] deliver it every Friday,” senior and co-president of the Food Security Club Ben Pan explained. The food is stored in cafeteria refrigerators so it stays fresh, and on drop-off day, a team of three to six club members makes the train commute to deliver it to a community fridge in need of restocking. So far, the club has delivered to six locations. “We also work with another organization called New York Food Pantry, so sometimes we just give them the food and they organize it,” Pan continued.

Though Nzeuton and Pan will soon graduate, they have taken steps to ensure that the Food Security Club lives on at Stuyvesant through its existing and new members. In line with their club charter, they will appoint a new pair of co-presidents, who will in turn choose leaders for borough operations. “Initially our goal was to have members in all the boroughs, so they could drop food off on their way home, but we currently only have members from Manhattan,” Nzeuton said. He emphasizes that becoming a member is very low-commitment. “We deliver three to four times a month and we only expect members to help deliver once each month,” Nzeuton elaborated in an e-mail interview.

To help launch what they believe could be a city-wide movement, the club is raising awareness for high school students to volunteer at community fridges and pantries. “We are reaching out to other schools in the city and trying to expand our initiative,” Pan explained.  The club has created a website, foodforallnyc.org, and an Instagram page that raises awareness about food insecurity and documents their operations.

An effective way the club has garnered support has been through promotions on different news networks, with the help of some of Zauderer’s connections. Over mid-winter recess, Nzeuton, Pan, and senior Max Gruber filmed an interview that aired on CBS. During the segment, they discussed their club, their partnership with Grassroots Grocery, and their goals for the future, hoping to inspire New Yorkers and Stuyvesant students to help their cause. Nzeuton concluded with a simple appeal to the viewer: “Getting involved is super easy, and it really doesn’t take a lot of time to help so many people.”