Neighbourhood Bites, a young organization in Greater Victoria that reduces food waste, has earned its founder, Grade 12 student Diya Courty-Stephens, a nomination for the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award.
The goal of the growing organization is simple: encourage and assist local food-based businesses like grocery stores and bakeries to donate food that would otherwise go to waste to people in-need in our community.
“I’ve always been exposed to growing food. We have a big garden where we grow vegetables and we compost everything we don’t eat. Finding out that North Americans waste so much food shocked me,” Diya says. “It’s scary because people could really benefit from the food that goes to waste. We have a homeless community in Victoria that doesn’t always have access to healthy food, especially fruits and vegetables. So, I decided it would be better if we could take the fresh fruits and vegetables that don’t get sold or used and instead of putting them in the compost or landfill we just brought it to the people who could use it.”
Neighbourhood Bites is run entirely by SMUS students: Diya and fellow Grade 12 students Portia Balfour and Meredith Selwood. Classmate Jordan Stonehouse has also been involved.
Class Project Leads to a Passion Project
Diya’s early inspiration for Neighbourhood Bites began in Mr. David Kerr’s AP Seminar course last year.
“For an AP Seminar project, my friends and I decided to talk about the ways that we farm, especially in North America, and how effective our farming techniques are,” Diya says. “My paper was a historical perspective on arable industrial agriculture and the global demand for food.’”
While her paper was primarily focused on industrial agriculture since the Second World War, her research also highlighted just how much food goes to waste today worldwide.
“[The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)] reported that in 2012, the world’s farmers grew enough food to feed the entire population plus an extra 1.6 billion people. On the other hand, research from the FAO shows that in the past ten years, one out of seven people suffer from malnutrition and do not have access to enough protein,” she wrote in her paper. “Looking forward, the agricultural challenge lies not in underproduction of food but in building a system that supports sustainable agriculture and delivers it to consumers.”
Motivated to do something, Diya decided to try to make an impact close to home. She first recruited Portia and the two of them began laying the groundwork to make Neighbourhood Bites a reality.
“There are other organizations in Victoria like this but we know that there’s more that could be done. We thought small grocery stores would be the best places to talk to and ask for help, and Peppers Foods and Wildfire Bakery were the first ones to respond. We’re still taking in their food!” Diya says.
Since launching last year, Neighbourhood Bites has collected and donated more than 1,362 bunches of fruits and vegetables, 286 loaves of bread and 132 pastries. (A running tally of everything they’ve diverted from being thrown away can be found on their website.)
All of the donations go to Anawim House, a local non-profit that provides services and support to people living in poverty, or the Mustard Seed Food Bank.
“I’m very proud of Diya for having the appetite to take initiative at the local level,” says Mr. David Kerr. “It’s wonderful that she got the inspiration through the AP Seminar course, but the action piece – starting Neighbourhood Bites – speaks to the kind of person she is. She is intellectually curious and very motivated. She’s continually taking the initiative because she wants to go further and further, and this is proof of that.”
National Philanthropy Day Award
Diya was recently named a finalist for the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award, handed out by the Association of Fundraising Professionals as part of National Philanthropy Day on November 16.
“It was such a surprise. The other people who are nominated for the award have done amazing, amazing things for the community so it’s an honour to be nominated with them,” Diya says.
Earlier this year, Diya received an Honorary Citizen Award from the City of Victoria in recognition of her work on Neighbourhood Bites. “Honorary Citizen Awards celebrate those who have performed outstanding service to the betterment of our community,” according to the City of Victoria.
Beyond the awards ceremony next month, Diya is optimistic about the future of Neighbourhood Bites. They hope to create and launch an app to help better coordinate pickup and delivery, and to get more grocery stores and other food-based businesses participating. She also says that she has friends in Vancouver who’ve expressed interest in growing Neighbourhood Bites to parts of the Lower Mainland.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for us to grow. But what we eventually want to see is B.C. or Canada implementing the same law that France implemented, which says grocery stores are not allowed to throw away food; it has to be donated,” Diya says. “If we could put that law into action here for restaurants and grocery stores, we would save so much food and save a lot of people from malnutrition and hunger.”
For more information on Neighbourhood Bites or to support the cause, visit neighbourhoodbites.com.