In the words of Haleema Abbasi, one of the major student coordinators of the partnership with the OC Food Bank:
Hunger is a massive problem both locally and globally. According to the Second Harvest Food Bank, there are nearly 400,000 people who struggle with hunger in Orange County, where I live, and one in five children are at risk of hunger each month. The hunger problem has been on the forefront of my mind because of my work with shelters and soup kitchens. I used to imagine that the only ones who were suffering from hunger were the homeless people I’d see on streets occasionally. However, I realized that I was wrong. Hunger is a pervasive and hidden problem that many elderly people and families suffer from.
I knew that there was no way for me to address hunger on a community-wide level, but I did know that there were ways that I could make a little dent. An epiphany came to me during the Orange County Science and Engineering Fair. One of the things that bothered me after the science fair was over was seeing hundreds and hundreds of water bottles strewn on the tables after the project display boards and reports had been picked up. Many fairs require that the science project display boards be weighed down with water bottles. Unfortunately, after the excitement of the fair is over, the students grab their projects and run out, often not having enough empty hands to take back their water bottles. In ninth grade, I asked my former middle school if they would be willing to ask the participants to replace water bottles with cans of food to weigh down the project boards. They said yes, and we donated 200 cans to a local food pantry. I then contacted the Orange County Science and Engineering Fair (OCSEF) and asked if they would be willing to support this concept. They also agreed and I coordinated with the OC Food Bank. By bringing these two amazing organizations together, with very little effort, I was able to transform school and county science fairs into a canned food drive. Over the past two years, at the OCSEF we collected over 2000 pounds of food for donation, and 1000 pounds from the Los Angeles County Science Fair.
This year, we once again gathered over 1,000 pounds of food, thanks to the generosity of OCSEF participants!
It is not an easy thing to approach organizations with a new idea, however simple it may seem, and ask them to listen and then act. I had to sell an idea that I believed in and try and get people to buy into my vision. The wonderful thing about OCSEF and the LA County Science Fair is that they are run by people who are already dedicated to helping kids and to inspiring us all to be better and do better things for the world we live in. Setting up this program, which I am calling the ScienceCAN Initiative, is my small way of inspiring people to serve their community. I hope that every school, county and district will one day be a part of the ScienceCAN Initiative.