I was in tears. I tried to keep myself together, especially in front of all of those people, but I was rapidly losing my composure.
I just finished speaking on a panel at my first national hunger summit, and I had been quite nervous before it began. I wasn’t crying because of how I’d spoken; the speech was fine. Even through my suppressed panic, I had managed to explain MEANS, the database program I was trying to start to help local food shelves communicate with each other and significantly reduce waste from oversized donations, and the Guide to Food Drives, a documentI’d co-written with a friend for use in high schools. No,what I’d said wasn’t why I was crying – I was in tears over what had happened right after I turned away from the microphone.
The executive director of Sodexo Foundation stood up and announced the 2014 Stephen J. Brady Stop Hunger Scholars – “the youngest is a 5th grader from Texas, the oldest is a freshman in college from California and the third is with us today”.
She said my name and I lost it.
The shock wore off eventually, but the profound sense of honor is still here, months later. I applied for the scholarship at the insistence of my high school principal and I’m so thankful he called me down to his office that day.
As a result of the scholarship and its associated publicity, MEANS is no longer “my” project. It’s our project. With the work of an incredible six-member staff offering their talents on a volunteer basis, we have a prototype ready and a plan to begin a pilot in Iowa. The friends I made at the Sodexo Foundation event and the award itself have been instrumental in pushing us forward. We now have the capacity and contacts to take a simple idea and address the complex problem that is food waste. Meanwhile, the Guide to Food Drives has been picked up by another nonprofit and has now been promoted, published by Youth Service America, Souper Bowl of Caring, The World Food Prize Foundation, the National Society of Agronomy, National Honor Society, National Association of Student Councils and individual food banks in five states.
Now, I am in DC at American University for my freshman year of college and continuing to grow MEANS and think outside the box to fight hunger. In five years, I hope to see MEANS in communities around the country and myself in medical school with the ultimate goal of running medical operations for a DC homeless shelter or a free clinic operating in a low-income neighborhood.
For those considering applying for the scholarship, don’t wait for insistence from your high school principal. It is a life-changing experience; one that found me delivering a speech in the nation’s capitol to 1,000 people and spending time with other passionate leaders like myself in the fight against hunger. These were all phenomenal experiences, but by far the best was meeting the other four scholars and the Heroes of Everyday Life®, people of all ages devoting their time and talents to creating new solutions to an old and ever-growing problem.
The Stephen J. Brady Stop Hunger Scholarship was a huge leap, one I could not have made without the support of so many and one that opened more doors than I could have ever imagined. Hunger is a solvable problem. We have the tools and the talent. It’s time to stop it once and for all.
I encourage all students that are working to end hunger in their communities to apply this year. Winners get a $5,000 scholarship for school and a $5,000 matching grant to give to their hunger charity.
Apply for a Stop Hunger Scholarship October 5 – December 5 and you could #GET5GIVE5 in your hometown. To apply, for more information and official rules, visit SodexoFoundation.org.
To learn more about MEANS, visit their Facebook page. Download a copy of Maria’s “Fighting For Food: A Guide for High School Food Drives”.