A New York City teenager fights food waste and hunger by starting a student-run club that delivers canteen leftovers directly to grocery stores, especially as neighborhoods struggle with soaring grocery bills.
Skai Nzeuton, 16, is a Stuyvesant High School senior who launched the Food Security Club last year after seeing the impact of the COVID pandemic mixed with inflation. Nzeuton noticed the number of meals left behind in the school cafeteria and felt compelled not to allow those products to be scrapped.
“Every day I saw the same people on the train asking for food and I felt really guilty because I couldn’t help them and I didn’t have any money because I’m a student. At the same time, I saw a lot of food waste with perfectly good food being thrown away at school,” Nzeuton told NBC New York during a group interview on the Upper East Side at NYCHA’s Holmes Towers.
This teenager got the idea for stocking pantries from a history teacher who recommended working with community fridges, a public space that houses a variety of take-out foods like bread, produce, and canned goods.
The club began with its first donation on the Lower East Side at the Loisaida Community Fridge and has since enlisted up to 50 students to travel around town and distribute more than 3,000 pounds of rescued food from Stuyvesant High School.
“It’s about providing fresh produce because low-income families typically can’t afford those necessities, so we’re not just feeding the families, we’re promoting healthy living,” said 18-year-old Stuyvesant senior Ben Pan.
These Stuyvesant students want to lead by example and inspire other townspeople to do the same with their school surplus.
“We have over 1,700 public schools in New York City. If every single public school could have a club like this, we could feel so many more people and then donate over a million pounds of food every year,” Nzeuton noted.
Nzeuton and the team reached out to Daniel Zauderer, a former South Bronx middle school teacher who became the founder of the nonprofit Grassroots Grocery, which helps ship fresh groceries to over 30 distribution locations and six community refrigerators in New York.
Zauderer is proud that his organization takes a “neighbors helping neighbors” approach to stocking their fridges, rather than relying on government response or the contributions of large corporations.
Residents can simply take what they need and leave donations when possible, no questions asked. It is recommended that all donations are pre-packaged in a transparent container and properly labelled, including date of manufacture and potential allergens.
“We at Grassroots Grocery are trying as best we can to eliminate that type of hierarchy that exists in many food access solutions where the people who have something give to those who don’t. We’re trying to create a level playing field where you can give something back, but other days you might have to take it,” Zauderer told News 4.
In addition to sharing food, visiting these community refrigerators offers residents a space to connect on a personal level, an aspect that Sandra Pérez, president of the NYCHA Holmes Towers Tenants Association, added is vital to her community.