Angels Leave Teen Hunger Summit Inspired to Alleviate Food Insecurity

Holy Angels students who were involved in this year’s program included Grace Costanza of Clifton; Margaret “Molly” Doherty of New City, New York; Alexa Ferrara of Englewood Cliffs; Katherine Gallagher of Wyckoff; Lilianna Garber of Mahwah; Nora Giannantonio, Ashley Miskovitz, and Ava Tripodi of Emerson; and Sofia Zerillo of Dumont. They were joined by peers from other area schools.

Participants explored food insecurity in the United States, and learned how volunteerism can alleviate the problem. Presenters included CFBNJ, Newark Beth Israel, Girls Helping Girls, City Green, and Farmers Against Hunger. Workshops included Food Insecurity 101, Social Determinants of Health & Community Nutrition, Hunger as Health Issue, Urban Agriculture, and Food Waste & Gleaning.

Angels learned that approximately 38 million people in America are food insecure, and New Jersey ranks 45th in the nation for volunteerism. In addition, many people have difficulty obtaining hygiene products, which are not covered by SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps). In developing children, improper nutrition impacts brain development and academic performance. Girls who do not have access to feminine hygiene products may have gaps in their education because they miss school for several days each month.

“I plan to take what I learned and organize a food drive during the last week of school before Christmas Break,” Katherine Gallagher (’23) said. “I know I am being called to do this as God’s work. I will be running this food drive in my town of Wyckoff with a few other students from AHA. I hope to receive lots of support from the local community, as many tend to be very giving during the holiday season. I am very grateful for my life, including the food on my table and the many blessings I wake up with each day.”

Alexa Ferrara (’25) took an interest in the summit after discussing food insecurity at AHA’s sophomore retreat. She said, “Over 10% of the United States struggles with food insecurity, and about 7% of people in Bergen County struggle with food insecurity. This information was shocking to me, because the fact that the people around me may be suffering with food insecurity makes this problem feel even more real and personal than it already is…I will start to look into ways to help my community, possibly volunteering at a local food bank, or starting my own organization dedicated to help people who are food insecure.”

The sophomore retreat also motivated Sofia Zerillo (’25) to enhance her understanding of food insecurity. Zerillo left the summit with the message that change is possible.

“I learned about many people who were able to begin their own foundations that help an abundance of impoverished people,” Zerillo commented. “This forum made it even clearer to me that it is not impossible to get involved and benefit other people with your work alone…I became familiar with various volunteer and charity opportunities that genuinely benefit people. I plan on signing up for at least one of those in my area as well as inspiring my friends and family to do so as well.”

Ava Tripodi (’24) expressed an interest in GRACE, an organization that provides students with meals when schools close for snow days and breaks. Tripodi learned that many students rely on school-provided meals. She noted that GRACE established times and locations for children and teens in need to receive meals so they receive appropriate nourishment.

Molly Doherty (’25) added, “I feel it is my responsibility as a member of the community to stay educated on issues that a lot of people must deal with, and to focus on finding applicable solutions to these issues.” Nutrition, she observed, affects everyone. “It is an issue we must all take seriously.”

Lilianna Garber (’25), who also attended the 2021 summit, was ready to return this year to learn more.

“(Food insecurity) is not just hyper-specific to one community. It is a larger, systemic issue that is going to take a lot of work and effort to solve. I will use the information to participate in service that will help food insecurity, as well as outreach and educate people in my community about food insecurity.”

This was also a second summit for Grace Costanza (’23).

“Food insecurity can affect anyone in New Jersey; however, it is imperative to recognize those disproportionately affected by it, such as those living in urban areas or people of color,” she said.

Ashley Miskovitz (’24) recapped the discussion of the importance of a diet that includes fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein. She added appreciation for the healthy food on her own table.

“It was so surprising to see that people had to eat one piece of bread and make it last several days,” she shared. Miskovitz envisions an assembly about hunger issues to further educate her peers. “I also was inspired to now get involved with my local food bank,” she said. 

Angels assist CFBNJ with Global Youth Service Day, educate others about food insecurity, donate Thanksgiving turkeys, and participate in CFBNJ’s Teen Leadership Council and Teen Advisory Committee.

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