Student seeks to feed the hungry with help from grant, youngsters

Staff Writer

 Pavitthra Pandurangan Pavitthra Pandurangan EDISON — A grant awarded to a township teen will help to feed her community service project.

Pavitthra Pandurangan, a junior at the Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies in Edison, received a $400 Sodexo Foundation Youth Grant through Youth Service America.

“As communities are challenged by the reduction in public resources, it makes our vision of a hunger-free America more difficult to attain,” said Robert A. Stern, chair of the Sodexo Foundation. “Each Sodexo Foundation youth grantee is doing their part to tackle an issue that directly affects one in five of their peers. It will be through their actions and ingenuity that we will one day see an end to childhood hunger in America.”

For Pavitthra’s part, she has been tackling the issue with the help of elementary school students from Washington Community School in Plainfield.

She involved the 600 students at the school in a food drive contest for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

Pavitthra threw in some additional competition among grade levels with a Penny Wars fundraising contest.

Each grade level — first through fifth — received a box for food donations, as well as a container for Penny Wars.

Pavitthra said the friendly rivalry had begun even before the competitions commenced.

“It’s … just so much fun to interact with kids,” she said. “On the day I started the food drive, I gave each class a box, but the sizes of the boxes varied greatly. I gave one class a relatively small box, and the kids in the class claimed the small size was a conspiracy to make them lose. They got their teacher to come find me and swap out their box for a larger one.”

During both contests, which ran from April 21 through May 12, students competed for three prizes in each — a pizza party for the firstplace winners, doughnuts for second place and cookies for the third-place finishers.

“I truly enjoy working with the students of Washington Community School,” Pavitthra said. “What I admire about them is that they let themselves get excited over everything — about the concept of food banks, about working together to fill the penny jar, and about pizza parties, which is the first-place prize for the food drive and the Penny Wars. I’ve come to learn that their excitement often translates into great results and great service.”

The children’s great results and service materialized in the form of 631 cans of food and $571.09 raised through Penny Wars, according to Pavitthra.

She celebrated the students’ hard work at a Bowl-a-Thon fundraising event on May 10.

Through her project, Pavitthra said she hopes to get community members educated about childhood hunger, and equipped with the knowledge to help solve this problem. She is one of 100 young people from throughout the country to receive one of the grants.

Pavitthra said her experience with the students has been “phenomenal.”

“I’ve had such a great time being involved in this project that I don’t want it to end here,” she said. “Later this year, I plan on involving more local elementary schools in my initiative with the help of my high school service club, Do Something.”