Serving as the vice chair for the Junior Advisory Board of Joshua’s Heart Foundation, Aakash Suresh of Pembroke Pines, Florida, has displayed remarkable leadership and dedication in addressing food insecurity and advocating for the wellbeing of vulnerable populations. This youth’s impact is evident through his tireless efforts in setting up distributions and providing nourishment of 5 million meals to families in need as well as coordinating meetings with Congress to champion important initiatives such as the Child Tax Credit and Farm Bill.
Aakash’s influence has ensured that policies are in place to support those experiencing food insecurity and create lasting change. His global perspective and compassion have led him to travel to India to combat food insecurity and establish a development school for children who face physical and cognitive challenges.
Through this multifaceted work, Aakash embodies the spirit of volunteerism and encourages others to take a global role in service. Read on to find out more about his story.
Describe your volunteer role.
I’m the vice chair and head of relations of the Junior Advisory Board of Joshua’s Heart Foundation, a nonprofit based in Miami, that works to end world hunger. We work nationwide as well as internationally. We have a food pantry based in North Miami, and now we’re restructuring and launching Joshua’s Foundation 2.0, to make a more youth-run foundation, rather than a youth-volunteer foundation.
As vice chair, I work to coordinate members. Prior to COVID-19, it was around 100 members, and now we’re down to about 20 or 30, but we’re climbing back up to that number. So coordinating daily pantry operations, connecting with old as well as new relations, getting donors to help us out, getting more food sponsors – like Whole Foods and Publix – so we can use those donations in our pantry network. We also have a sister foundation called Bread for the World, where we work in advocacy. Priorities there include passing the Child Tax Credit Bill, or the Pandemic EBT Bill.
I’m also involved in computer science and machine learning. So on the side, as a passion project, I’m creating a machine learning predictor in order to find food insecurity in geographical areas before it occurs.
What inspired you to start this initiative?
It was a family thing. My brother was involved when I was around 10 years old. My parents are also involved in it. The whole essence of family is what the organization is all about, and that’s how I initially got involved. Joshua’s Heart was founded by Joshua, his mom and his grandmother. For the past six or seven years I’ve been involved.
Why is addressing food insecurity so important in today’s world?
I think it all ties back to this idea of equity, not equality. Everybody deserves not to be hungry. But some people are in worse economic situations than others. We’re all trying to get the same amount of food and trying to make the hunger situation better in general, but some people are not as privileged or economically advantaged as others.
Nutrition is such a big, important part of someone’s life. Joshua’s Heart was one of the first nonprofits to implement nutritional values into pantry development, rather than giving out junk food. It’s food that is supposed to actually help make people more healthy.
Food security helps provide a foundation for everything else. By meeting this basic need – giving people food – you give them a point to jump off of. They can get a job. They can get a home for themselves. They themselves can solve food insecurity. It’s a cycle.
Share a rewarding story from your volunteer work.
This past spring break, I went to India on a family trip, as well as to establish a development school. My family and I helped develop this school in an area of India that was hit by a tsunami and has mostly [low-income residents]. The school takes in cognitively and physically disabled kids and helps to teach them and provide them with food and schooling.
Joshua’s Heart helped us connect with them. I think it was one of the most rewarding experiences – establishing this school in my hometown, where my roots are. Seeing how we can make change, not just there but everywhere.
Why is it important for people to get involved with the causes they care about?
It fosters your own independence and activism. If you care about something, take charge of it. If you’re in a job you don’t like, you’re not going to be performing as well. If you’re not as emotionally involved in a role, you’re not going to succeed in that role. If you are passionate about it, you will succeed because you’ll want to succeed.
As teenagers and kids in youth service, if we don’t find interest in something, we don’t really want to do it. But if we take an interest in the issue – such as solving food insecurity – we will continue to take charge of it no matter what. Anything that gets in the way, we’ll work through, because we are interested in the success of the mission.
What advice would you share with people who want to start volunteering?
Make sure to help out wherever you can. No matter the situation, help someone. I’ve seen situations where people who have less, help more. Make a change in your community.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Aakash? Find local volunteer opportunities.