Sioux YMCA Team in South Dakota has launched a project to fight hunger and waste by distributing food packs to the Cheyenne Reservation that would otherwise be wasted.
It is part of the YMCA's Youth-Led Solutions Initiative, which includes a program launched by the Sioux YMCA Team from South Dakota called "Combatting Food Loss in Indigenous Communities and Beyond."
A team of six young people started the project to tackle the food insecurity issue in their area and highlighted it on Aug. 12, International Youth Day 2021.
"Our goal is to use and distribute food that was already going to be tossed aside and to use it productively," said 17-year-old Haley Rapada, 17.
The team collects food mostly from local grocery stores after it is left unsold but is still suitable for consumption.
"If it is perishable, we will make it into something more edible," said Mark Barron, Senior Youth Development Director at Sioux YMCA.
"For instance, we use over-ripe bananas to make dozens of loaves of banana bread at a time. Or with veggies, we will make a stir fry.
They then take them to local homeless shelters to distribute," said Barron.
"So far, we have served around 400-500 people in various communities on the reservation," he noted.
"The funds received by the Youth-Led Summit are being used for supplies and transportation costs because it can be a couple of hours' drive between communities and for staff salaries."
He said his group also started a backpack program with local shelters and another non-profit organization.
"We packed in backpacks the non-perishable food we get and other essentials and distribute them to the homeless on the street," Barron explained.
Two weeks later, the team gets the backpack back and gives out a grocery gift card to return.
"We will then fill it again and pass out again in a cycle. Our major goal is to make this something that other teens or groups can replicate easily with their local businesses where they live," said Barron.
"I have always been passionate about bringing awareness to the issue of food insecurity, which often goes overlooked and unseen,"
He said that in 2019, he was a top 20 finalist in the South Dakota Rising Stars of the West competition due to his actions in addressing food insecurity through the media and working with local state officials.
Malory Peacock, aged 18, said We see a need to utilize food waste. There is also a lack of awareness and youth involvement: we have every intention to fill that gap, as well as the dedication and passion for doing so".
Those involved said the project shows that youth leaders can make an impact in small and needy communities.
"It also brings light to the ever-present food insecurity in our area. It shows how local young people have dedicated themselves to altering this issue, which can be seen in every aspect and has reached every community member in some way," said Barron.
Peacock said she had learned a lot about advocacy and change and gained confidence.
Haley Rapada, 17, said, "The Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation is already a struggling community, and the [COVID-19] pandemic intensified that. I want to help my community."
The Sioux YMCA runs programs throughout the communities around the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation.
"Some populations face terrible issues such as extreme hunger and malnutrition. When you know what it means to lack food, you understand the importance of saving and recycling food.
Carlos Sanvee, Secretary General of World YMCA, said, "There is enough food to nourish the planet, the problem is accessing and sharing the resources in an equitable way. I hope many will be inspired by the Sioux YMCA project..
Founded in 1844, World YMCA operates in 120 countries and reaches 65 million people. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland.