EDISON, NJ - When Shreya Shivakumar started volunteering at the Hands of Hope Food Pantry in her freshman year of high school, she discovered that sometimes, the pantry could not meet the needs of the people they were trying to help. She met clients with diabetes and individuals, especially children, with food allergies who could not find suitable food options. After researching this issue, she learned that over two million Americans live in poverty with food allergies or Celiac disease.

“My goal was simple: to make food banks more inclusive of those with food allergies,” said Shreya.

In December 2018, Shreya founded Nourish America, a 501c(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to providing allergy-friendly foods to families in need. Among the teenage board members include Sarina Thapar and Vasundhara Kulkarni, both Co-Vice Presidents of the organization. An entirely youth-led venture, the first event was a gluten-free food drive with the Sri Sathya Sai Center of Edison. Since then, Nourish America has held three more food drives and donated over 375 pounds of allergen-free food to people in need. One of our most successful food drives was held at the South Plainfield ShopRite and resulted in a donation of 137 pounds of allergy-friendly food to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Hillside, NJ.

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In June 2019, the team organized the first annual Notes for Nourish benefit concert at the Old Franklin Schoolhouse in Metuchen. The profit raised from ticket sales were used to donate hundreds of pounds of allergen-free foods to local food banks. The benefit concert featured performances by youth musicians ranging from singers, violinists, pianists, and guitarists all under the age of seventeen. The benefit concert spread awareness of food allergies while supporting people in need and showing everyone a great time. 

“We wanted to spread awareness and help people in need in an exciting way where we could connect with our friends and emphasize the importance of combating the lack of allergen-free foods in food pantries,” Vasundhara stated. 

Since founding Nourish America, the team has kept a strong social media presence to raise awareness of their cause. Through their Instagram handle (@nourishamerica) and website (www.nrshamerica.org), Nourish America has started campaigns to educate and inform their growing audience. Every year, they promote Food Allergy Awareness Week, which will take place in mid-May 2020, by posting daily articles about issues related to food allergies. 

“Because social media is so popular nowadays, it is important to realize that platforms like Instagram can be used to effectively spread awareness for issues such as this one to a much wider audience,” Sarina explained. 

With the current COVID-19 outbreak, Nourish America saw an increased need for allergy-friendly foods among refugee families in New Jersey. Many of these families are suffering from unemployment which places a financial burden on them, especially during this crisis. 

“Having volunteered with these same refugees and formed friendships with many of them, I felt a need to use my platform and help out the refugee families as much as I could,” Shreya explained.

As a result, the team decided to collaborate with the Refugee Assistance Partnership (RAP) of New Jersey to hold a food drive for refugees affected by COVID-19. Nourish America has been able to donate 142 pounds of allergy-friendly food to refugees, distributed by RAP. The food drive is ongoing and is accepting donations through the end of April. Anyone who would like to donate to Nourish America’s most recent food drive can email nrshamerica@gmail.com

In the future, Nourish America intends on holding more food drives and a second Notes For Nourish benefit concert in summer 2020. Until then, Nourish America will continue on its journey to end hunger for all.