Seeing – and filling – a need for hungry students

Daily Point of Light # 6727 Mar 6, 2020

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Zoe Nelles. Read her story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Many schools offer meals to students who don’t get adequate nutrition at home and Palmer High School in Palmer, Alaska is no exception. Zoe Nelles, 18, took the idea a step further when she wondered what these kids ate on the weekend. That moment of empathy was the impetus for The Sandwich Project, an idea Zoe had to assemble bags of nonperishable food to distribute to these students for weekend meals. What started as food for seven teens is now a community movement involving a local food bank and neighborhood donors, with 80 students in five local schools know getting enough to eat on the weekends.

Points of Light spoke with Zoe about her commitment to service.

Describe your volunteer role?

The Sandwich Project began in my kitchen at home where I assembled bags of food for seven students at the beginning of the 2018 school year. I wondered how these kids were eating on the weekends -and consulted the school nurse to identify who needed help. With the support of teachers and the home economics department, we were able to grow the project to what it is today. My role includes raising money, organizing food drives, and seeking support from the local food bank. I also handle budgeting, inventory: tracking, coordinating volunteers and preparing food packages and fresh sandwiches on Fridays. I am also developing a manual for future students in the National Honor Society to take over the project once I graduate in May.

Why is it important to you to support your community in this way?

It’s important because we have a large number of students who are food insecure at home and don’t have access to resources. To be able to help those students is incredibly rewarding. Creating the Sandwich Project is important to me because I’ve grown up in a small community all my life and to know that a portion of these meals are going to students that I’ve grown up with is incredibly eye-opening.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your volunteer service?

It’s challenging to make sure the project runs completely smooth and that we have enough food for each student. Then there’s communicating with everyone who works with the project. Another hard part of volunteering is just being aware of how many kids don’t get enough to eat – that makes me sad.

Zoe Nelles Daily Point of Light Award Honoree
High school senior Zoe Nelles recently was awarded the Prudential Spirit of Community Award for the Sandwich Project/Courtesy Zoe Nelles

Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?

Volunteering is important for yourself and your community. Being a resource and benefiting your community means caring about one another and helping others even when it doesn’t benefit you. That is how strong communities are built.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

One of my favorite parts of creating the sandwich project is the idea that these students know that someone is thinking about them and realizes their situation and wants to help. I know it’s hard to be a teenager on many levels – but I couldn’t imagine not knowing where my next meal is coming from.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

So many skills! I’ve learned how to take inventory, how to coordinate and create partnerships and how to think ahead and accommodate to change. Through the Sandwich Project, I’ve learned how to enlist help from my community and have seen them willing to help and offer support.

Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?

We recently put in for another grant to help with sustainability. I’m excited to be honored with the Prudential Spirit of Community Award which I will receive in Washington D.C. where I’ll get to meet students from all over the country. I will be graduating in a couple of months and I will have to make sure that the Sandwich Project will continue and grow after I go to college. It’s exciting to see where the project could go.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

I would like people, especially teens, to know that at any time you can make a difference in your community. I know it can be daunting to think about, but it’s so rewarding once you begin. Another lesson I’d like people to learn is that there are problems in every community and with every problem, there is a solution.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Zoe? Visit All for Good for local volunteer opportunities.

Beth D'Addono