California Teen Tackles Homelessness with Canned Food Drive for Climate Action
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California Teen Tackles Homelessness with Canned Food Drive for Climate Action


Manahil’s Experience with a Canned Food Drive

While participating in the Climate Leaders Fellowship program, Manahil Syed set out to tackle homelessness by planning and executing a food drive in her community. Through overcoming challenges and achieving successes, she gained valuable insights into effective food drive organization, which she shares below.

Her Tips for an Effective Canned Food Drive Volunteer Projects

  1. Educate and Guide
    Educate students on climate change and sustainability. Guide them through initiating community volunteer projects.
  2. Address Local Needs
    Focus on specific local problems, like homelessness in this case, and collect needed items through community drives.
  3. Partner and Collaborate
    Partner with local organizations to support and sustain projects. Involve schools and other community groups.
  4. Engage and Volunteer
    Engage people who want to help. Volunteer at local organizations to build connections and directly support the community.
  5. Reflect and Repeat
    Observe the impact of your efforts. Feel proud of the difference made and aim to expand successful projects.

Here is our interview with Manahil about her community service project:

Poster for a food drive and volunteering event by Manahil Syed, highlighting canned food drive and helping others receive materials.

Manahil Syed
Age 15
Petaluma High School
Petaluma, California

Tell us about yourself!

Hello! My name is Manahil Syed, and I am currently in Petaluma, California. I am 15 years old, and I love to help my surrounding environment for the better! Additionally, I love playing soccer, hanging out with friends, and meeting new people.

What specific problem were you addressing in Petaluma, California?

In my community, I wanted to address the homeless and help with their living situation. Now more than ever, climate change affects our environment even more.

Hotter temperatures in the summer and even colder temperatures in the winter. For those without the comfort of a shelter, life is even more difficult to survive.

What did you do for your project addressing homelessness, and how did you do it?

For my Climate Leaders Fellowship project, I first went to grocery stores to collect donations of many types of canned foods, focusing on food the homeless and those with low income may need.

Then, I needed a place to send those canned foods and contacted an organization I had volunteered for in the past named Una Vida. Una Vida fights hunger by hosting food pantries for the Petaluma community.

After this, my high school collected all the cans from the larger canned material drive and donated them to Una Vida.

To help my community even more, I went to the organization’s location and volunteered from after school until 7 PM. With this, I built a deeper connection with the people taking things for their homes by answering questions, carrying their groceries, and being helpful to those around me.

Which groups of people did you try to get to engage with your project?

I engaged with people who wanted to make an impact in their community and help others. They were the main people who helped donate cans.

Why did you set out to help the homeless population?

I did this because in California, there are many weather changes, and being without food in these times would make it hard to survive.

What were the results of your Climate Leaders Fellowship project?

While at the organization, I saw hundreds of people getting items. I heard many people saying “thank you” and being grateful. Overall, I saw outstanding results!

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

Participating in this fellowship made me feel very proud of being able to impact my community, regardless of if it was a big or small change. I hope to do this again.

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.