Engaging Today’s Youth to Volunteer

A 17-year-old Entrepreneur’s Passion to Feed the Hungry

By: Bethany Williams, Midland Division

While Nate Noss might appear to be a normal high school student, his service and dedication to serve the hungry is something to be emulated. This impressively driven teen is so passionate about the cause he created  his own nonprofit, St. Louis Food Rescue, an ally to The Salvation Army’s work in the St. Louis area.

Nate is the captain of Whitfield High School’s cross country team, member of the varsity wrestling team, a student in AP Calculus and AP French, a trumpet player in three bands and ensembles, a nationally-ranked chess competitor, and a pianist in his free time, but most of all, the founder and president of St. Louis Food Rescue. These are just beginning of the amazing successes that this 17-year-old from Wildwood has achieved.

Nate began volunteering at his local food pantry when he was only 11 years old. Nate and his mom spent the next four summers working there, averaging 150 hours per summer.

“Volunteering at the food pantry allowed me to begin to see the needs of my community,” said Nate. “I started to learn about those less fortunate than myself.”

Nate soon realized that he could do more than volunteer. At the age of 15, he contacted grocery stores and bakeries with the mission of picking up the food left over at the end of the day and delivering it to the food pantry, but he was met with much rejection and humiliation. Despite his young age, Nate remained determined and ultimately became successful. Whole Foods, Costco, Einstein Bros Bagels and Donut Palace all agreed to donate on a weekly basis.

“The first time I went to Whole Foods, I could not believe the amount of perishables that were going to be thrown away had it not been for me,” said Nate, “and I knew that there were hungry people in my community.”

After attending the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Conference in July of 2011, Nate’s life was changed.

“The people at HOBY cared about today’s youth and our potential instead of what we take away from society,” said Nate.

From this experience, he was motivated to turn a small community service project into a non-profit organization.

“It was not easy,” explained Nate. “Creating a nonprofit takes lots of time which must be spent contacting donors, sponsors, recruiting media attention, creating a website, and much more.”

St. Louis Food Rescue currently saves 5,000 pounds of produce, baked goods and dairy products that would have been discarded at the end of the day by local food retailers and immediately delivers it to homeless shelters and food pantries in the St. Louis community.

Nate and Eric Engel, vice president and co-founder of the organization, lead about 30 teenage volunteers to deliver the food to three local homeless shelters and food pantries: The Salvation Army Church and Community Center in O’Fallon, The Salvation Army Family Haven Community in Partnership in North St. Louis County and the New Life Evangelistic Center in downtown St. Louis.

Collectively, this organization donates roughly 100 hours of service to the St. Louis community per week.

“I love this program,” exclaimed Nate. “Instead of just feeding the hungry, we are able to do three things: help the environment by ensuring that all the energy expended to produce, package, transport and refrigerate is not in vain, feed the hungry, and involve today’s youth by allocating all leadership and volunteer opportunities to young people. We have helped over a quarter of a million people to date.”

With fewer than 20 percent of organizations involving youth extensively in their work, St. Louis Food Rescue has had an astonishing impact on young people.

“I want to help all the time,” said volunteer Michael Schifano. “It is so much fun to participate in community service in which you know that you are feeding thousands with just a couple hours of your time.”

Recently, local troops of Boy Scouts have been volunteering to help Nate with various food transports due to an increased demand for food in the shelters and an increase in donations.

In 2011, the O’Fallon Shelter served 15,000 people and roughly 500 families each month. The need at the O’Fallon Pantry increased from 50 families a month in 2011 to 600 families a month in 2012, and that without people like Nate and groups like SLFR, would be impossible to keep up with the need with limited resources. Government food commodities that the O’Fallon food pantry used to receive were cut by 80 percent this year, and the increase in need has been a huge challenge to meet.

“It is amazing to see someone that young recognize a need within the community,” commented Captain Paul Ferguson, who is based at the O’Fallon Salvation Army. “Nate and The St. Louis Food Rescue are allowing families that might not be in the best economic situation to access healthier food options.”

The O’Fallon homeless shelter uses the fresh produce to cook healthy meals for the residents and to stock their food pantry. Mercedes Bilow, a culinary instructor from St. Charles Community College, hosts a class every other Saturday at the shelter to teach residents how to prepare healthy meals while on a limited budget. The fresh fruits and vegetables she uses in her classes comes from Nate’s weekly donations to the center.

Peggy Sherwin, manager at The Salvation Army Lodge in O’Fallon, has a close relationship with Nate and is grateful for his contributions to help the less fortunate.

“Nate is someone who is humble, sincere and caring,” said Peggy. “I can see the underlying passion inside of him that motivates him to want to help others. He leads by example and has a true heart for service.”

In May 2012, Nate received the the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Outstanding Young Alumni Award in New York at the 2012 Albert Schweitzer Leadership Awards Gala. With more than 100,000 kids ages 16 to 25 eligible to apply for the award, Nate was one of four selected as a recipient. And just a year after he represented his high school at the Missouri seminar where sophomores from all across the state gather to experience a life changing three day event, Nate, along with Eric, will be going back to HOBY Missouri as guest speakers to inspire more teenagers.

This summer, Nate is interning at the St. Charles headquarters for Youth in Need, which is a nonprofit child and family services agency that offers a variety of crisis prevention and intervention programs. His future plans include applying to study environmental and civil engineering at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology or applying to Bradley University or George Washington University.

While co-founder Eric will leave in the fall for Point Park University, therefore giving up his position to another young person, he is happy about how he spent his time.

“Helping those less fortunate became a part of my life,” said Eric. “I remember the first time I couldn’t participate in a Sunday night food collection because I was sick. When I went to school, I didn’t feel right – almost like part of my life was missing.”

The goal of St. Louis Food Rescue is expanding on what has already been built. Nate pledges that he and his organization “will not stop giving back until we are satisfied that every person has their basic human needs fulfilled.”

For more information on St. Louis Food Rescue, visit http://www.stlfoodrescue.org/.

For more information on the O’Fallon Salvation Army, visit http://www.usc.salvationarmy.org/usc/www_usc_ofallon.nsf.

To donate food items to help us sustain the need, reach out to Danni Eickenhorst at Danielle_Eickenhorst@usc.salvationarmy.org.

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