International Youth Day 2021: making the most out of food waste

The 35 youth-led climate action projects selected by the YMCA’s Youth-Led Solutions Initiative included a programme launched by the Sioux YMCA Team, from South Dakota in the USA, called “Combatting Food Loss in Indigenous Communities and Beyond”. It’s a project to fight hunger and waste by distributing food packs to the Cheyenne Reservation that would otherwise be wasted.

A team of six young people started the project to tackle the food insecurity issue in their area. “Our goal is to use and distribute food that was already going to be tossed aside, and to use it in a productive way” says Haley Rapada, 17.

The team collects food mostly – from local grocery stores – that is right at the point of being unable to be sold, but is still good for consumption. “If it is perishable we will make it into something more edible”, explains 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.”

“So far, we have served around 400-500 people in various communities on the reservation”, adds Mark Barron. “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”.

From wasting to serving

“We also started a backpack programme with local shelters and another non-profit organisation”, says Mark.  “We  packed in backpacks the non-perishable food we get and other essentials,  and distribute them to the homeless on the street”. Two weeks later, the team gets the backpack back and give out a grocery gift card for its 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”.

“I have always been passionate about bringing awareness to the issue of food insecurity, which often goes overlooked and unseen. In 2019, I was a top 20 finalist in the South Dakota Rising Stars of the West competition, because of my actions in addressing food insecurity through media and state/local policy. We see a need to utilise 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 to do so”.  Malory Peacock, 18

“If life gives you lemons, you make lemonade”

This project shows that youth leaders can make a concrete impact in small and needy communities. “It also brings light to the ever-present food insecurity in our area, and shows how local young people have dedicated themselves to altering this issue, which can be seen in every aspect of the community, and has reached each and every community member in some way”, confirms Mark Barron.

“I have learned so incredibly much about advocacy and change, and it has made me so much more confident in my ability to make a difference going forward. It’s a difficult thing to do, as a youth, to go into spaces where you are “too young” and “too inexperienced” to belong, but it is so incredibly empowering, both to break into those spaces, and to see the changes you have been working so hard on actually happen. I have learned the power of my voice and the value of my perspective” Malory Peacock, 18

“The Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation is already a struggling community and that was intensified by the pandemic. I want to help my community.  What we are doing is a simple way to help minimize stress on my community, and I am happy and willing to do whatever I can. I have learned to use my resources. I like the saying “If life gives you lemons, you make lemonade”: we are able to make the best out of food waste products” Haley Rapada, 17 

More information

The Sioux YMCA runs programmes throughout the communities on and near the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation. The aim is to teach and encourage the Lakota (a Native American tribe) values of Wawokiye, Woksape, Ohitika, and Wa o’hola (Generosity, Wisdom, Bravery, and Respect) as well as the YMCA USA values of Caring, Honesty, Respect, and Responsibility: https://www.siouxymca.org/

As we mark International Youth Day 2021, we join the United-Nations in bringing up stories related to the theme: “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”.