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People in Your Neighborhood: La Jolla teen Ashley Cohen founds Helping the Hungry Virtually

Helping the Hungry Virtually founder Ashley Cohen, 16, of La Jolla.
Helping the Hungry Virtually founder Ashley Cohen, 16, of La Jolla uses donations to send grocery e-gift cards to struggling San Diego families.
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Editor’s note: The La Jolla Light’s “People in Your Neighborhood” series shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send an email to robert.vardon@lajollalight.com.

To help people facing food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, 16-year-old La Jolla resident Ashley Cohen launched Helping the Hungry Virtually.

The goal is to match those who need short-term assistance with philanthropic people and organizations willing and able to contribute financially. HTHV then sends grocery e-gift cards to struggling San Diego families.

Ashley answered questions from the Light about the effort:

Q. Where did the idea come from to establish HTHV?

A. “At the beginning of the pandemic, I came across a news story about a mother who had been laid off and was skipping meals to help feed her family. That really moved me and inspired me to help. The pandemic stopped me from holding a physical food drive. So, I had to get creative and got a group of teens together to host a virtual drive to collect donations for gift cards to grocery stores to give to families in need.”

Q. How does HTHV work?

A. “We are middle person for connecting families in need with food assistance, and we have raised $125 on just our GoFundMe.com page, plus other donations. We are in contact with over a dozen families in need of assistance. To find them, we have been in contact with the San Diego Unified School District, homeless shelters and social services organizations. ...

“To find the donors, we have reached out at numerous places. I contacted families at my school [she requested that the name of the school she attends be withheld for privacy], I sent letters in my neighborhoods and reached out to CEOs of so many companies and grocery stores and we got a system going.”

Q. How has the team developed since the project started?

A. “There are four teens on the HTHV board of directors, and we have individualized jobs, such as outreach, social media and finances. We are all students in La Jolla. In the future, we plan to expand HTHV into a larger team of teens and broaden our scope beyond San Diego in order to fight food insecurity in other areas as well.”

Q. Why is this cause so important to you?

A. “It’s an important issue because there is a broad range of families in San Diego and I have been a firsthand witness of life in San Diego in various conditions, but I think it’s important to acknowledge there is need in all communities. During the quarantine, I was seeing the news headlines of people being laid off from their jobs and food banks struggling and I realized it was an issue and I wanted to help.”

Q. What has this experience taught you?

A. “The biggest thing this has taught is how to remain perseverant. It can be discouraging to send out 50 emails and get one response. But I try to remember to know why I’m doing this. I’m doing this out of passion for my community and to help those facing food insecurity. I try to not get discouraged by small details and focus on the bigger picture.”

To donate to Helping the Hungry Virtually, visit gofundme.com/f/helping-the-hungry-virtually-san-diego. For more information or to nominate a family in need, email helpingthehungryvirtually@gmail.com. Updates are posted on HTHV’s Instagram page, Instagram.com/helpingthehungryvirtually. ◆