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December 07, 2023

Teen Hunger Summit Fosters Awareness & Action

This month’s virtual Teen Hunger Summit provided a startling close-up of food insecurity and food waste in the United States. Presenters, including representatives from the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Table to Table, and the Franklin Food Bank, spread the message that food insecurity is widespread and anyone can be food insecure.


AHA Campus Ministry organized participation for Angels Lydia Baracskai of Hoboken; Kara DePasquale of Oradell; Alexandra and Gabrielle Fontana of Nanuet, New York; Mary Gassib of Franklin Lakes; Amaris Hiatt of River Vale, and Chanel Hwang of Old Tappan.

Alexandra, Gabrielle, Chanel, Amaris, Kara, Mary, and Lydia.

Chanel Hwang is already working to curb food insecurity through her AHA-based club Secureats.


“It is a club focused on providing underprivileged women in New Jersey with fresh produce, etc.,” Hwang said of her organization. “I wanted to attend this (summit) because I believed it would help expand my knowledge past the research that I have done in the process of creating this club. I was definitely able to learn a lot more about hunger in New Jersey after hearing directly from people who have more experience in this field.”


Hwang was interested to learn how much work is already going into the fight against food insecurity. Until she attended the Teen Hunger Summit, she did not realize the amount of effort food pantries/banks put into fulfilling their clients’ needs.


Alexandra and Gabrielle Fontana are both active with the CFBNJ’s Teen Leadership Council. Both Angels viewed the summit as an opportunity to further their understanding of food insecurity and discover ways to encourage more people to get involved in this area.


“I will continue to not waste food and spread awareness to my community about the negative impacts of food insecurity,” Alexandra said, adding that she will remain active in local food drives. “During the last food drive which was held by the Teen Leadership Council, I even encouraged my family to volunteer with me at the food bank. I will continue to make it my personal goal to be cautious of my actions and further educate myself on these prominent issues.”


Gabrielle Fontana stated, “Many times when people are food insecure, they believe it to be embarrassing, and put on a persona that everything is okay in their lives and nothing is going on, when that is not always the case. Anyone could be food insecure…This issue is so important, and everyone should try to help out in their community to lessen the percentage of food insecure people.”


Gabrielle plans to continue to support organizations that address food insecurity. She has volunteered at a military retirement home and various food banks through her work with the Teen Leadership Council.


“I will continue to do this, as it is such an important matter for everyone in the world today,” she added.


During the summit, Mary Gassib discovered that over 800,000 families suffer from food insecurity in New Jersey alone. Her goals are to speak out about this issue and continue to learn more.


Amaris Hiatt was especially interested in attending the summit when she heard the program was being hosted by the Community Foodbank of New Jersey.


“Last year, I had a very fun and educational experience at the Community Foodbank of NJ on Service Day,” Hiatt shared. Her class (AHA ’26) and several faculty and staff members teamed up to volunteer at CFBNJ during the Academy’s annual Service Day in May 2023.


“I will work to reduce food insecurity by contributing to food drives around the Holy Angels community whenever I can,” Hiatt said. “Additionally, with my newly acquired knowledge of food insecurity, I will strive to contribute donations and even volunteer at local food banks.


“The most surprising thing I learned is that the workers and those involved in many food banks are actively trying to make them a welcoming and supportive community for their customers,” Hiatt shared. “Many food banks put effort into providing foods that appeal to the varying cultures of their customers.”


She pointed out how food banks strive to create a welcoming environment by playing music from different cultures and truly engaging with everyone who enters.


Franklin Food Bank Director Derek Smith told summit participants that he works to foster a joyous atmosphere where people experience music, social interaction, dignity, and respect. His food bank includes recipes along with available foods. Instructions are presented in different languages to meet the needs of the township’s diverse community. He noted that food banks also include services such as health screenings, financial literacy classes, nutrition courses, and more.


Jessica Elicin, director of CFBNJ’s health and wellness programs, discussed how her nutritional education team helps food pantries elevate the health of local communities. Elicin pointed out the importance of offering healthy options, such as fresh foods and items that are low in sodium and refined sugar. She also highlighted how people from different cultures may not be aware of the nutritional benefits of foods they do not recognize.


Julie Kinner from Table to Table explained how “gleaning” rescues food from sources such as supermarkets, farmers markets, meal kit companies, corporate cafeterias, and restaurant suppliers. Table to Table brings that rescued food to people in need.


Her “Thanksgiving Reality Check” was a wakeup call. Kinner said over 312 million pounds of food go to waste in the United States every Thanksgiving. The associated environmental toll is a water footprint equivalent to every person in the country taking a 90-minute shower, and the greenhouse gas emissions equal 73,100 trips around the globe. The financial waste is approximately $609 billion.


After grabbing everyone’s attention, she shared ways for individuals to lend a helping hand. Kinner encouraged students to hold a fresh food drive, donate money to a food bank, or start an I-Rescue Lunch Club to connect people in need with unopened foods from the school cafeteria. She added that saving unopened milk containers from school lunch trays would help stop the annual waste of 45 million gallons of milk.


Cash donations go a long way. Kinner shared that every dollar donated provides fresh food for 10 healthy meals.


As Elicin summed up her own presentation, she stated, “Access to food is a human right…We have to care enough to make change happen.”


Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious school serves young women from many cultural and religious backgrounds. AHA’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.