Each day, thousands of Montgomery County residents cannot afford to eat. The weak economy and high local living costs have pushed more families toward food pantries, shelters, and government assistance. In 2009, about 65,000 county residents subsisted below the federal poverty level. And one of four Montgomery County public school students qualifies for free or reduced lunch.

YLTA has designed two after school programs where young people develop leadership ability by volunteering to help the hungry and homeless in their community: Food Recovery for the Hungry and The Ambassadors Program.

Food Recovery for the Hungry
Upon seeing the abundance of perfectly good food tossed away in local public schools, Afarin Homer, YLTA's Executive Director hatched a plan to stop the waste and help hungry people at the same time. This inspiration became Food Recovery for the Hungry in March 2010. Participating students collect otherwise-discarded whole foods like milk, chocolate milk, strawberry milk, juice, fresh fruit and canned fruit. The program aims to prevent food waste in schools by collecting and delivering unwanted food, otherwise thrown needlessly into trash cans and landfills, to local soup kitchens, shelters, and food banks.

Since its inception, FRH has collected and delivered more than 1,461 pounds of food to more than 2,000 homeless people through the Lord's Table, a local soup kitchen.

Participating inspires students become active citizens and advocates for positive change within their communities. Students sign up in their school office and earn volunteer hours required for graduation.

The program currently operates in Gaithersburg Middle School, will soon expand to Parkland Middle School, and later to Kennedy High School, Spring brook High School, and Paint Branch High School.

Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz awarded the Food Recovery program and its ambassadors for their community contributions on March 21, 2011. The program received the city's GREAT award for excellence in education programming. Read about FRH in the Gaithersburg Gazette and in the Washington Examiner.

FRH volunteers also practice leadership by speaking to raise awareness about hunger and its solutions in Montgomery County at different venues such as parent-teacher associations, local boards of education, and the Commission for Children and Youth.

Ambassadors Program
Ambassadors offers students two components for service learning: knowledge, through workshops on character development and leadership, and experience, through community service such as composing snack bags for the homeless at local soup kitchens. Since its inception in March 2008, Ambassadors at Gaithersburg Middle School have decorated, packed, and delivered more than 2,000 snack bags to Lord's Table.

For this and other efforts, the Maryland Department of Education awarded YLTA's Ambassadors Program the Sherry Unger Award in 2010.

Dr. Nancy Grasmick and Dr. Jerry Weast