Lewis and Clark High School senior Josh Hechtman was able to spend his summer working on food access and meeting with politicians to discuss his ideas thanks to the Student Leaders Program run by the Bank of America.
Hechtman started his food advocacy work during his junior year, launching the ReProduce 81 program at his school to collect packaged foods that students were throwing out and distributing it to students in need.
Things were rocky at first, and students thought the bins set up on each floor of the school were trash or recycling bins, he said. “The first few weeks were a learning experience,” he said.
But students got the hang of it, and Hechtman said he and his team of volunteers collected and redistributed 300 pounds of food during the past school year. Each donated item was logged before it was taken to the Academic Success Center in the library for distribution to students in need.
Hechtman said he got a kick out of seeing students put food in the bins to help their peers. “I knew we could get a lot of food recovered,” he said.
Hechtman said he applied for the Bank of America program because he wanted to learn from the experts more ways to help solve food insecurity.
As part of the Student Leaders Program, students across the country are paired with a local nonprofit. Hechtman decided to work with the Community Colleges of Spokane Foundation during his seven-week internship. “We had four food initiatives,” he said.
Hechtman worked to start a food recovery system at Spokane Falls Community College that should be up and running in September. Leftovers from the cafeteria will be packaged and frozen and then distributed at the on-campus food pantry. He also made plans to create several small pop-up pantries around the SFCC campus where people can both drop off unwanted food or pick up food. He created an online ordering system for the main SFCC food pantry so students can order their food online and have it packaged and waiting when they arrive.
He also transformed a storage space at the Adult Basic Education Center into a food pantry that will be stocked by Feed Spokane.
“That’s what I’ve been doing all summer,” he said. “It’s been great.”
Hechtman said he’s been making an effort to spread his ReProduce 81 program, and it was great to be able to help college students who need food. “Its often an overlooked population,” he said.
He expanded ReProduce 81 to Shadle Park High School toward the end of the last school year and is in talks with North Central High School and Gonzaga Prep. Each school’s program will be run by student volunteers. He would like to expand it to even more schools before he graduates. Those interested in starting a chapter at their school can contact him via email at email@example.com.
Hechtman also is making plans to have someone take over the program at Lewis and Clark after he graduates in June.
“I don’t want it to end when I leave,” he said. “It can have such a big impact on my community. I have a few people in mind who will shadow me. When I leave they’ll take over.”
As part of the Student Leaders Program, Hechtman had the opportunity to spend a week in Washington, D.C., where he talked to Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers about food waste programs and food insecurity.
“Senator Cantwell was really excited about what I was talking about,” he said. “The Capitol Hill day was the best by far.”
Hechtman has always been interested in food, but he didn’t translate that into his passion for reducing food waste right away.
“I’ve really loved food and loved cooking,” he said. “Being Jewish, that was always a big part of the culture.”
Then he saw that other people didn’t always have enough food. “I really wanted to get food to those people,” he said. “Food is a basic human need.”
He also noticed that a lot of food is thrown away at his school even though it is still usable. “Food waste is definitely something that is overlooked,” he said. “People throw away food without thinking.”
Hechtman plans to study public policy in college and perhaps anthropology or environmental science as well. He’s not sure exactly what he wants to do for a career, but knows it will have something to do with advocacy and food.
“I want to do this for the rest of my life,” he said. “I want to help feed students and help end food waste.”
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