A San Diego Teen Is Helping Feed Her Community Without Going to the Grocery Store

High school student Ashley Cohen has raised more than $1,900 in e-gift cards for her community.

A few months ago, job opportunities were dwindling daily and food banks were shutting down. Ashley Cohen, a 16-year-old soon-to-be high school junior from San Diego, realized the threat of the food insecurity and how much harder it was going to be for many to be able to afford groceries. Cohen felt the need to help, but how? Due to the pandemic, hosting a physical food drive wasn't an option and Cohen didn’t have a driver's license nor enough money to help even one family on her own. So, she got creative. "I reached out to peers in my community and developed a team to launch Helping the Hungry Virtually (HTHV), where we could help local families in need without any physical contact," Cohen says. Through the program, grocery e-gift cards are sent to struggling San Diego families.

Teen working on laptop fights food insecurity during COVID19 pandemic
Courtesy of Ashley Cohen

The idea sprouted back when Cohen learned of a mother in her San Diego hometown skipping meals in order to buy food for her children after losing a job due to the pandemic. While Cohen wanted to help feed the local community virtually, it was hard to know where to start. So Cohen sought advice from CEOs of companies all over the world. Vice presidents and directors for programs at big-name companies such as Walmart, Costco, and Kroger responded. In addition to helpful business and fundraising advice, Kroger even donated grocery gift cards for HTHV to send to families in need.

HHTV is able to locate families in need with the help of local homeless shelters, social service organizations, and hundreds of public elementary schools in the San Diego area. From there, HTHV matches those families needing short-term assistance with e-gift cards provided by donations from locals as well as grocery stores. Over a dozen grocery gift cards totaling $1,900 in value have gone out to help San Diego families. But the teen says this is only the beginning. Cohen hopes to be able to continue fundraising for her community as well as expand beyond the borders of San Diego with more branches of HTHV.

"San Diego has always been my home, and I want to give back to a community that means so much to me," Cohen says. "I know that if the roles were reversed, other members of San Diego would do the same for me. Given the current state of uncertainty and instability, it is important that we do not let families slip through the cracks and that we actively address food insecurity."

To help Cohen continue providing virtual assistance to families affected by COVID-19 through e-gift cards, you can donate to the GoFundMe page. She's also open to inquiries via email at helpingthehungryvirtually@gmail.com.

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