15-Year-Old Climate Leader Organizes Two Material Drives to Benefit California Community
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15-Year-Old Climate Leader Organizes Two Material Drives to Benefit California Community

The Climate Leaders Fellowship, offered in a collaboration between Stanford University’s Deliberative Democracy Lab and the Rustic Pathways Foundation, challenged students like Varin to design a project customized to their local community’s needs and then join in online sessions with other participants to learn and share ideas.

Learn how Varin collected materials and the incredible results of his project in the interview below!

Varin Sikka
Age 15
Khan Lab School
Mountain View, California

Tell us about your Climate Leaders Fellowship projects.

I implemented two material drives to benefit my community. The first one was at the end of November 2022. It was a food drive and we collected more than 450 food items in just one  week.

Which groups of people did you try to get to engage with your project, and what did you collect?

I ran a food drive in my school, collecting donations from 7th-12th grade students. The students, their families and the school staff were my target audience.

I collected non-perishable food items such as canned and bottled items, packaged items like pasta, cereals, grains etc. as well as drinks, snacks and gift cards as well.

We had 100% participation in the food drive with an average of 3.5 items donated per student. The students and staff also appreciated the info/facts that I shared with them regarding food insecurity and climate change.

How will these contributions help a need in your community?

My Food Drive was directed towards addressing the problem of food insecurity in my community. Food insecurity is a serious global problem and is a way to measure how many people cannot afford to buy food.

According to the USDA, more than 33 million people, including 5 million children, experience food insecurity in the United States.

Climate change has contributed to the drought in California. Extreme temperatures, water shortage as well as floods and wildfires impact agricultural productivity negatively which in turn contributes to an increase in food prices and leads to food insecurity. Such harsh events disproportionately affect poor people in low-income communities (including homeless people) as they struggle to get basics like food.

What partner organization did you contribute to?

All proceeds were donated to the Ecumenical Hunger Program, a local charity based in East Palo Alto. I spoke to them before the drive to determine their needs and accordingly encouraged students to donate items each day during the drive week.

What were the results?

At the conclusion of the Week long food drive in my school, we collectively donated about 460 food items and $350 in gift cards and cash. That’s at least 1,500 meals that will alleviate hunger for some people.

Tell us about your second donation drive!

In the meantime, climate change induced severe weather events took America by “storm” (literally!) at the end of 2022.

In California, we saw historic rains, flooding, low temperatures  and flash floods in December and January. I wondered how people with limited resources as well as homeless people were dealing with these extreme weather conditions.

So, I decided to do a 2nd material drive in January in my school. Thanks to my school community, we collected more than 250 clothing and essential items. The proceeds from this drive were donated to CityTeam, a San Jose based charity that supports marginalized communities and homeless people.

In both the drives, I sent out daily emails to inspire the students to take the initiative to find and bring the donation items. To inspire and inform the community, all my emails contained some specific information or data facts about the problems we were trying to address, such as, food insecurity, food waste, climate justice, homelessness, climate change and fast fashion.

How did participating in the Climate Leaders Fellowship make you feel? 

I care about climate change and social justice. This Fellowship has given me the confidence to act on the things that I care about rather than just talk about them.

When I signed up for this fellowship, I thought that the material drives would help to make things better for some people. They did. But this journey has also enriched me in many ways and I am humbled by the results and the generosity of my community.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love listening to and composing music (especially hip-hop), watching television, hanging out with friends/family and playing/watching basketball games.

What do you have any idea what you’ll pursue in college?

I enjoy learning about linguistics and world history as much as I enjoy learning about the sciences and math. No matter what I study in college, I want to keep helping others and working on solutions to mitigate climate change.

Do you have advice for other students who want to make a positive impact?

Be thoughtful and thorough (in whatever you want to do) and go for it!

About the Author

Kayla Anzalone

Kayla joined Rustic Pathways in 2020 as the Director of Special Projects. She has nearly a decade of experience in communications and marketing. At Rustic Pathways, Kayla is dedicated to helping high school students discover their passion for exploring the world through summer travel programs. She drives impactful initiatives to empower students through meaningful travel experiences worldwide. Based in San Jose, California, Kayla loves the outdoors, live music and travel.