New York Teen Fights Food Insecurity with Climate Action
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New York Teen Fights Food Insecurity with Climate Action

The Climate Leaders Fellowship is a leadership program that connects dedicated high school students around the world to address climate change. Fellows develop their own volunteer projects that they launch locally, such as a project aimed at addressing food insecurity in New York.

The Fellowship is provided by collaboration between the Stanford University Deliberative Democracy Lab, the Rustic Pathways Foundation and Rustic Pathways.

Read our interview with Emma Tong and learn about her inspiring journey to combat food insecurity in her local community.

Rising Prices Lead to Food Insecurity in New York

Emma Tong
Horace Greeley High School
Westchester County, New York

Tell us about yourself!

Hello! My name is Emma Tong, I live in Westchester County, New York, and I am a sophomore at Horace Greeley High School. In my free time, I love to draw, swim, and hang out with my friends.

What specific problem were you addressing in Westchester County, New York?

I am very fortunate to have grown up in a nice neighborhood where we had access to all the resources we needed, but I noticed that just outside of my area there was an immense amount of poverty with 9.6% of Westchester living below the poverty line.

At the same time, I realized the prices of food items such as produce often rose when we went to the grocery store. I figured that if these prices kept rising, then fewer people in poverty would be able to afford food. After doing a bit more research, I noticed that climate change causes crops to yield less product, which in theory would make their prices more expensive.

After learning about the rising cost of food, what did you decide to do for your project?

I decided to host a food drive at my school and my local church to help those who might be affected by rising food prices due to climate change.

What type of food drive contributions did you collect and how did you collect them?

I collected nonperishable food items such as pasta boxes, canned food, and cereal.

I set up donation boxes at my school and my local church. Then I talked to my friends and family about how the issue was affecting our community and asked if they had any items that they could donate. I also hung up posters around my school advertising the food drive.

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

I tried to get my friends, classmates, and family friends to engage with my project and learn about the effect of climate change on food prices.

Why did you decide to tackle this specific issue in your local community?

I wanted to help give food to those who otherwise might not be able to afford it. Where I live is just outside New York City, and NYC has an extremely high poverty rate of around 23%. It is always extremely disheartening to see how people suffer without enough money to feed themselves whenever I go into the city.

I thought of how people were going through a similar situation potentially just outside of my town. This all motivated me to try and make a difference, even if it was just for one person. It was uplifting to hear the stories of how many people in the Climate Leaders Fellowship were also helping the less fortunate in their community and how they were doing their best to make the world a better place.

What were the results of the food drive?

Together we were able to accumulate 29 items to donate! But most importantly, I was able to help spread the word about climate change’s effects on our local community to countless people. Even if they did not have anything to donate, they were able to learn about the issue at hand and perhaps spread the word to other people.

What partner organization did you contribute the donations to?

I donated all my proceeds to Feeding Westchester.

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

Participating in the fellowship has made me feel proud of both the people in my community and myself. Before this project, I’d never really carried out such a complex project on my own, especially not one requiring so much drafting. However, the fellowship provided a lot of helpful resources and was of immense help.

I’m extremely happy with what this project was able to produce, and I aspire to continue addressing the issue of climate change in the future, perhaps even with another drive! This program has been invaluable to me and my hopes of reducing climate change’s effects on my community.

Read more about Climate Leader Fellows’ projects that are making impacts in communities around the world. 

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.