Three years ago, after seeing her classmates struggle to focus in school due to lack of nutrition, seventh-grade Shaileeh Shah started a free community-supplied food pantry in her community. Read about her mission to activate neighbor engagement, share nutrition education with everyone, and bridge the gap between higher and lower social classes.
What’s The Spark Momentum’s purpose?
The Spark Momentum is a nonprofit working to activate neighborhood engagement, making each and every community exceptional. We aim to educate those who are unaware of nutrition and provide basic necessities to everyone, regardless of race, gender, or religion.
What inspired you to create this project?
I first realized the true extent of the dire need for solving the food insecurity crisis as a middle schooler. Initially, I saw my fellow peers not able to focus due to their lack of motivation, but the more I investigated the issue in my school, I understood that the root cause of their inability to pay attention was the fact that they did not receive proper nutrition. Given the demographics of my town, I realized that the only fulfilling meal they received was the school’s lunch, and sadly, most of the underprivileged kids were not even eligible for free or reduced lunch.
Moreover, when I visited my father’s childhood village in India, a place where heart diseases are common, I was alarmed to see neglectfulness towards nutrition. Families there used hydrogenated vegetable shortening as a substitute for oil, which creates artificial trans fat and presents serious negative effects. Even more troubling, when I talked to these families, they explained that they thought this shortening was healthy and had been using it for decades.
In areas throughout the world, the inability to receive proper nutritional information leads parents to sacrifice their health and the health of their children. In developing countries, and frankly, the entire world, there is an urgency for nutritional information and basic necessities. Determined to educate them, I began to pore over nutritional research, but I had to translate information into Gujurati to help my relatives understand after realizing there was a lack of scientific literature available in languages other than English. After reading my translations, families in the village have changed their habits over the past few years, reducing their use of vegetable shortening and other unhealthy food choices.
I also created a little free pantry near my middle school called the Sparkle Pantry. This little free pantry facilitates neighbors helping neighbors as people who need food, toiletries, etc. take the products, and people who want to give can contribute to this pantry.
Did you ever have any doubts about people abusing the Sparkle Pantry?
We can never be sure that no one will abuse the pantry, and there is a possibility that some people might take items even if they do not truly need it. However, the purpose of the sparkle pantry is to increase other people’s livelihoods. Ultimately, one must have faith in the community and leave it up to them.
Do you have any particular stories/memories from The Spark Momentum that stuck with you?
My most significant memory happened a few months ago when I went to refill the little free pantry. As I drove to the pantry, I saw an old man taking items from the pantry. He turned out to be a Vietnam War veteran and said that his life improved during the past few months due to the introduction of the little free pantry in his neighborhood. Though I’ve seen the impact of the little free pantries many times, my heart was full. Every single person, whether donating or receiving, can improve their lifestyle.
What is your ultimate goal for The Spark Momentum?
I have created two pantries so far, one in Edison, NJ, and the other in Somerville, NJ. We have five pantries in the works, and we aspire to place a pantry in every community across America, and eventually, the entire world.
How was your experience with Irvine Lights?
My experience was absolutely amazing. I felt welcomed and encouraged to create a nonprofit. I am glad I found out about Irvine Lights because I was able to convert my dream of becoming a nonprofit into reality.
Check out The Spark Momentum’s website at https://thesparkmomentum.wixsite.com/help/take-action!