Irvine High School students tackle food insecurity by taking action against food waste

What happens to the uneaten bagels in coffee shops?

A student in Orange County asked this very question before setting out on a mission to rescue unsold bagels and deliver them to people in need.

The Zero Waste Initiative began shortly before the coronavirus pandemic began Nithin Parthasarathy, a 15-year-old student from Northwood High School in Irvine. The initiative brings additional uneaten bagels from Brueggers Bagels franchise to various organizations across the county that feed the needy.

In the past few months, Parthasarathy and his initiative have donated over $ 20,000 worth of food that would otherwise have been dumped in the trash. They also pick up excess food from Starbucks, Dunkin ‘Donuts, and Einstein Bro. Bagels.

“Actually, it all started when I ate bagels at Brueggers Bagel and asked for a thin bagel. When they chopped off the top of the bagel and the bottom, they threw the Rheine away. I thought instead of doing that they would use it again, ”said Parthasarathy.

“When I saw that they just tossed it in the trash, I was completely shocked,” he added. “I was really ashamed that I made sure that perfect food was wasted.”

Parthasarathy said after seeing that he asked if the store was ready to donate the excess bagels to people in need, and so the initiative began.

Mike Learakos is the executive director of Waste Not OC, a public-private coalition founded in 2012 whose goal is to eradicate hunger and reduce food waste. Learakos said efforts like Parthasarathy are wonderful in a telephone interview with the Voice of OC.

“The only thing we have in the whole county and actually in our region is bread. There is so much of it, in large part, because it is cheap to produce and it is more beneficial for a bakery, bagel shop or cafe to overproduce than to run out, ”said Learakos.

After the pandemic and Stay at Home Order began, Zero Waste was suspended, but after Parthasarathy saw unemployment rates skyrocket and heard from farmers destroying grain and disposing of milk, Parthasarathy started it again.

However, the initiative was not without its challenges.

“Some stores are just perfectly ready to throw their groceries away,” Parthasarathy said.

The pandemic also brought its own challenges as people began to fear the virus and had health concerns.

“It got a bit difficult getting approval to pick up and distribute food to various nonprofits, and it took a lot of phone calls. Emails and advocacy to find those stores that might be donating the food waste in these times and also to find the right organizations that just welcome help, ”Parthasarathy said.

Nithin Parthasarathy, founder of the Zero Waste Initiative, and a volunteer put uneaten bagels in the trunk of a car on July 9.

The bagels are placed in large plastic bags wrapped in additional bags, and those who pick up and drop off the bagels wear masks and gloves. Raji Kannan, Parthasarthy’s mother, urges him to pick up and drop off the bagels.

Kannan said in a phone interview that she was happy to be an active part of her son’s initiative and that she felt that they really support the community by giving back as much as possible.

“In addition to being aware of food waste, Nithin has been very concerned about waste and the environment in general from the start. He doesn’t want the water to flow, (he) turns off the lights or the air conditioning and supports us to compost food waste, ”said Kannan in a follow-up text.

Kannan is part of a small group of volunteers who help Parthasarathy get the bagels where they need to go. This group includes Amita Ramanujan, a student at Portola High School and volunteer leader for the initiative.

Ramanujan turned to Parthasarathy after reading about his endeavors and joined in the desire to help the cause.

“My overall goal is to get more volunteers so we can increase the number of organizations we work with,” said Ramanujan. “COVID-19 is causing financial instability for many more people, placing them in more difficult situations, and will only lead to an increase in the number of people in need of help.”

If you want to volunteer, you can visit it Zero Waste Initiative website and reach out to the group to see how you can help.

The organization is in the process of going nonprofit and Parthasarathy hopes to have more hands on deck in the future, meaning more food will be saved and more people fed.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @ helattar @ or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

Comments are closed.