Can We Do Something About Food Waste?

By Tatiana Simmons, Riley’s Way Alumni Engagement Intern

Shrusti Amula is a 17-year old high school senior in Rockville, Maryland. She founded the 2023 Riley’s Way Call For Kindness project, Rise N Shine Foundation, which is a nonprofit aimed at reducing food waste and helping young people grow as leaders. To reduce food waste in their community, Rise N Shine Foundation utilizes composting and food recovery. Food waste isn’t just a social or humanitarian issue; it’s also an environmental one. Food waste ends up in landfills where it rots, producing large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas even more powerful than CO2.

The idea for Rise N Shine Foundation was born when Shrusti was in 7th grade. Her county had an agriculture fair and she saw a presentation about food waste and composting. The topic really intrigued her because everyone knows that you shouldn’t waste food, but no one really understands why or the negative environmental impact. Food waste is the third largest contributor to the climate crisis and many people, including Shrusti at the time, don’t know that. This was a problem she saw at her school and at businesses, with people discarding food they didn’t want and never thinking twice about it. Shrusti decided she wanted to bring light to this problem because the solutions are easy, such as composting or giving it away to someone.

Shrusti founded her organization with the goal of composting and it started at one elementary school. She currently has 12 schools in her county using her program. Over the course of running the nonprofit, she came up with the idea of adding a food recovery program, which was started in 2022. She partnered with her county’s public school system and they are bringing it to all of the schools in her county because of its importance. Shrusti’s program will be opening in all 211 schools in her county in June.

In Maryland, Rise N Shine Foundation has been working with local legislators and got a bill passed to fund composting in schools based on the idea that Shrusti started. They were able to see what a big difference it was having and so they passed Senate Bill 124, which will help schools funnel the program in their school. After the bill passed, other student leaders and legislators in other states were interested, so Shrusti’s currently trying to bring it to other states.

Shrusti first got connected with Riley’s Way and the Call For Kindness by seeing it online and talking with her parents. They discussed how it would be a great opportunity to get connected with other leaders across the country. Shrusti loves connecting with other young leaders because, “we have a lot to connect about and I love learning from other people who have a similar journey to me.”

Students in Shrusti’s community want to take on leadership roles and make a difference, but they are often unsure of how to do so. Shrusti’s Foundation aims to be the resource for students to begin their leadership journey. Shrusti has incredible youth leaders working with the organization and she plans to continue to support them once she goes to college. Some youth leaders work with the composting program by giving presentations and talking to students when they’re opening a new program. Another group of youth leaders assist with making sandwiches twice a week, which are donated to a local homeless shelter.

Shrusti’s project embodies the Riley’s Way values of kindness, empathy, and inclusive community in a big way. They are trying to build up their community by reducing food waste and helping people become the best version of themselves. Climate catastrophe affects everyone, but with the composting work Rise N Shine Foundation is doing, they are able to mitigate those effects. With food recovery, it directly influences people. It shows other youth leaders the importance of helping people who don’t have the same resources as them. Building relationships with the people they are helping embodies kindness and creates an inclusive community.

One of Shrusti’s favorite parts is when they first started the composting program and they went to different schools and talked with students. They also do regular checkups at the school to see how students are reacting to the implementation of composting. She loves doing it so much because of the student’s excitement. She loves seeing students’ reactions knowing they are directly making an impact and they’re so excited because they are saving the planet. They also host food pop up pantries at an assisted living house and she loves doing that because she is able to talk directly to people she is helping.

Shursti’s advice to other people hoping to start a project to help their community is to just go for it. Everyone says that the first step is the hardest but Shrusti really believes that.The hardest part is taking the first step and once you get the ball rolling everything will become easier. Just go for it, try your best.

The solutions that Shrusti has brought into her community are solutions that can be implemented anywhere and once you have the basics and know how to do it, it’s not as difficult getting things started. She plans on bringing composting and food recovery to the school and community she plans on attending for college.