As food insecurity surges in New York City, Manhattan high school students are on a mission to reduce food waste.

More than two million people in New York City experience hunger every day. Nevertheless, 3.9 million tons of wasted food end up in New York landfills each year, with more than 20 percent of this waste generated by restaurants and schools. Concerned students across Manhattan have founded school clubs that aim to limit the amount of leftover food that goes to waste each day. 

“I’ve always been in love with food,” Lucas Choe, founder of Feed the People NYC and a junior at the Dalton School, said. “And [my love] has allowed me to see how severe and impactful hunger and food insecurity truly is, which is why I wanted to do something about it.”

In September, Choe and his friends began casually asking restaurants and bakeries in their neighborhood if they had any leftovers at the end of the day, in the hopes that they would be able to donate them. He said that he has since been able to form relationships with local restaurant owners and with the people to whom he donates the food. 

Now, his friends have acquired the same mindset, and they too have begun looking for food that they can donate. 

“Me and my best friend Muhammad, we went to a diversity day at Dalton and there was a lot of leftover food. So we just took it and then gave it to people in the streets,” Choe recounted.

Since then, more students have begun to get involved in his organization. Choe said there are always about 20 to 30 students who will come and volunteer to deliver food.

In August, Maya Puterman, a junior at the Ramaz School, founded Fresh Opportunities, a school club that packages and distributes leftover school lunches that would otherwise go to waste.

“I’ve always been passionate about sustainability and hunger,” Puterman said. “I started Fresh Opportunities because I would commute home from school every day and pass by numerous housing insecure individuals who were asking for food, while I would see my school throwing out its excess lunch at the end of the day.”

Puterman has partnered with local food banks and community fridges, rallying a group of consistent volunteers who package food during their lunch hours and drop off the meals on their way home. 

“Though every week is a little different, Fresh Opportunities student volunteers at Ramaz are usually able to package around 300 meals a week,” Puterman told the News.

Local community fridge directors have also worked to encourage high school students to take action against food insecurity.

Daniel Zauderer, executive director at Grassroots Grocery, a non-profit organization that runs more than 35 community-led hyper-local food distribution sites, said his organization partners with and encourages high school clubs like Fresh Opportunities that aim to donate leftover food. 

“We have this Student-Food Recovery Task Force so that we can keep inspiring other people to do work in their schools,” Zauderer said.

This initiative has been successful in inspiring new clubs in Manhattan, such as one at the Nightingale-Bamford School. Zauderer said he hopes the trend will continue to grow and that more schools will get involved in the effort.

“I know it’s cliche,” Zauderer said. “But young people are the future, and if we can get them engaged in solving really important problems, they will instill those values into their own families and create a big ripple effect of change.”