Teen honored with special award: Donate Don’t Dump program continues to help those in need

Donate+Don%E2%80%99t+Dump+chapter+presidents+Mia+Pacheco+%28left%29+and+Ethan+Posard+%28second+from+left%29%2C+Cal+State+San+Marcos+kinesiology+professor+Laura+de+Ghetaldi%2C+Donate+Don%E2%80%99t+Dump+chapter+president+Grace+Manuel+and+organization+leader+Gabrielle+Posard+stand+with+EPA+Administrator+Gina+McCarthy+%28far+right%29+on+Aug.+12+at+the+White+House+during+the+President%E2%80%99s+Environmental+Youth+Award+ceremony.+%28Courtesy+photo%29
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Teen honored with special award: Donate Don’t Dump program continues to help those in need

Donate Don’t Dump chapter presidents Mia Pacheco (left) and Ethan Posard (second from left), Cal State San Marcos kinesiology professor Laura de Ghetaldi, Donate Don’t Dump chapter president Grace Manuel and organization leader Gabrielle Posard stand with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy (far right) on Aug. 12 at the White House during the President’s Environmental Youth Award ceremony. (Courtesy photo)

Donate Don’t Dump chapter presidents Mia Pacheco (left) and Ethan Posard (second from left), Cal State San Marcos kinesiology professor Laura de Ghetaldi, Donate Don’t Dump chapter president Grace Manuel and organization leader Gabrielle Posard stand with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy (far right) on Aug. 12 at the White House during the President’s Environmental Youth Award ceremony. (Courtesy photo)

Courtesy photo

Donate Don’t Dump chapter presidents Mia Pacheco (left) and Ethan Posard (second from left), Cal State San Marcos kinesiology professor Laura de Ghetaldi, Donate Don’t Dump chapter president Grace Manuel and organization leader Gabrielle Posard stand with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy (far right) on Aug. 12 at the White House during the President’s Environmental Youth Award ceremony. (Courtesy photo)

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Donate Don’t Dump chapter presidents Mia Pacheco (left) and Ethan Posard (second from left), Cal State San Marcos kinesiology professor Laura de Ghetaldi, Donate Don’t Dump chapter president Grace Manuel and organization leader Gabrielle Posard stand with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy (far right) on Aug. 12 at the White House during the President’s Environmental Youth Award ceremony. (Courtesy photo)

Debbie L. Sklar

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Encinitas teen Gabrielle Posard’s mission to feed the hungry may have started out as a small project sketched on a napkin in 2009, but today her organization, Donate Don’t Dump, distributes more than 20,000 pounds of donated food monthly to struggling families and seniors.

Gabrielle, 17, has done such an amazing job, she recently earned the President’s Environmental Youth Award for helping to reduce food waste going to landfills. The honor is the most prestigious environmental award for youths in the nation and is celebrated during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C.

“The Donate Don’t Dump project obtains surplus and short-dated food from grocers, growers and food companies in the San Diego area donated to the hungry instead of being sent to landfills,” said Gabrielle, an incoming senior at San Dieguito Academy high school in Encinitas. “I was (12) when I first drew the Donate Don’t Dump logo on a napkin at lunch and started the charity. Part of my goal is to inspire and give young people a way to get involved in alleviating hunger and saving the environment. We empower and create opportunities for young people to get involved, engaged, and make a real difference.”

Much success

The campaign is now a volunteer-run nonprofit with 20 chapters and more than 4,000 members and partners in four states. She says she is excited and proud of the organization and how quickly it has grown.

“Receiving the President’s Environmental Youth Award felt nothing short of amazing. Of course it was exciting to get to visit the White House and accept the award from the administrator of the EPA, but the best part was meeting all of the young environmentalists who all have such strong drive and passion,” she said.

Gabrielle is just as busy today as she was when she kicked off the organization — perhaps even more so.

“In the past five years, I think I’ve continuously been investing more and more of myself not just in Donate Don’t Dump, but in the over-arching goal of alleviating hunger and stopping food waste,” she said. “I will take every opportunity I can to help Donate Don’t Dump grow and build stronger.”

Personal pride

Of course there is also the personal pride she takes with her knowing what she has accomplished thus far.

“I don’t think I would be able to live with myself if I was aware of this huge problem (96 billion pounds of food being wasted along with the 1 in 5 Americans being food insecure) and didn’t do something to change it. I’ve always enjoyed helping people as well as solving problems, so Donate Don’t Dump is truly just my passion. It feels good to know that I’m doing good,” she said.

While there are many rewards to her work, she said the best is “having the families come to our food distributions so thankful for their groceries. We’ve had community members come up to us personally, thanking us because our rescued food is what they rely on for the next two weeks. Being able to physically see the results of our work at our food distributions is the best experience.”

Many challenges

As for the most challenging aspect of running an organization such as DDD, it’s “definitely trying to work in this adult world while still being a minor,” she said.

“It can get frustrating when I’m sitting in physics listening to a lecture, knowing that I’m missing a meeting I want to be at. Although it really does just push me to make that extra effort … and schedule a lot for after 3 p.m. I actually had to legally declare myself as ‘The Big Cheese’ of Donate Don’t Dump, because while I have the role of president of the charity, I can’t legally be the president because I’m only 17,” she said.

Additionally, being in high school can be a bit of a barrier for her, she added, as she is balancing grades, work and being on the dance team.

“Whenever I can I work on Donate Don’t Dump, even if it’s just answering emails on my lunch break, I do, but I generally devote about 10 hours a week,” she said.

Family support

Luckily, she also has supportive parents, family and many friends, who are in her corner cheering her on.

“It’s been great to have a really strong support system. My grandma always asks for updates on Donate Don’t Dump because she likes to ‘brag to her friends’ about how she is so proud of me,” Gabrielle said. “My parents like to tell me how proud they are that I was able to make a difference by asking questions and having an entrepreneurial spirit. Though my friends get disappointed when I can’t hang out because I’m working on Donate Don’t Dump, all of them find the concept of food rescue really interesting and generally ask to be a part of it. A lot of my friends have even come out to volunteer at different distributions.”

Other helpers

Additionally, Gabrielle credits the Kinesiology Club at California State University San Marcos, a charter of DDD that has been providing food distributions to students and members of the community for two years.

“We provide the largest amounts of distributions/food for DDD. We have increased our distributions to the second and fourth Tuesday of every month, which will now go year round,” said Laura de Ghetaldi of the Department of Kinesiology, part of the College of Education, Health and Human Services at Cal State San Marcos.

“I had become aware of Donate Don’t Dump and proposed to them that we begin food distributions with the help of our Kinesiology Club members; as the adviser of that group, I felt we should be involved in outreach to and for the North County community,” de Ghetaldi said. “Gabrielle, et al, are examples of something beyond the often used statement, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’”

“I believe that while we might say ‘teach your children well,’ it is here with this youth-led nonprofit of DDD that the youth are teaching the adults,” she continued. “Perhaps it also might be that these youth are clearly raising many a village. I cannot express enough the magnitude and honor of this recent award. To have watched this occur at the EPA and at the White House was one of the most profound experiences I have ever been a part of professionally.”

Future forward

As for what lies ahead, Gabrielle said she is always looking for opportunities to help Donate Don’t Dump grow and spread its message. At present, she hopes to extend Donate Don’t Dump up and down the coast to more of the CSU campuses.

In the meantime, Gabrielle said, she is excited to be returning to school next week after a busy summer: “I’m actually the elected senior class director (the academy’s terminology for class president), so I’m very excited to be planning events and managing the senior class activities. I’d really like to get my school even more involved with Donate Don’t Dump, as well.”

In her spare time, she said, she splurges on dance and enjoys writing.

“I’ve had a few articles published on Huff Post which is very exciting for me,” she said, referring to Huffington Post online. “However, my spare time becomes very limited when I dance four days a week, work on Don’t Dump, study, work on college applications, and serve pancakes at The Original Pancake House every weekend. No complaints though, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

More accolades

In addition to the EPA award, Gabrielle has been honored by California state senators, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and other elected officials. She is a member of the Hunger Advocacy Network and The North County Food Policy Council. She advocates and lobbies in Sacramento for the environment and hungry families, promotes AB341, California’s Mandatory Recycling Law, and has worked to pass zero-waste ordinances.

EPA leaders

Those awarded by the EPA nationwide demonstrate the creativity, innovation, leadership and passion for community engagement needed to face difficult environmental challenges. Teachers and students who attended the ceremony participated in a workshop led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to discuss climate and best practices in the field of climate education.

“Through their enthusiasm and commitment, these students and educators are inspiring current and future environmental stewards,” Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, said in announcement about the award. “We are pleased to honor their work that helps communities and protects the environment.”

Teachers were given the EPA’s Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Education (PIAEE) and will receive $2,500 to further their professional training. Each recipient’s school will receive an additional $2,500 to support environmental education programs.

The annual PEYA and PIAEE competitions recognize student leaders in environmental stewardship and K-12 teachers employing innovative approaches to environmental education in their schools. These students and teachers creatively utilize their local ecosystems, environment, community and culture as a context for learning.

Debbie L. Sklar is a freelance writer in the region

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