La Jolla Girl Scouts help Feeding San Diego launch ‘Gift a Meal’ to help restaurants and needy residents

Girl Scouts in Troop 4978
Girl Scouts in Troop 4978 (top row from left): Adalee Branstetter, Amelia Vanderpump, Isabella Shah, Genevieve Wierzynski, Sadie Van Huizum and Elsa Shuman Pettersson. Bottom row from left: Tatum Takata, Lily Piehl, Sabrina Hochberg, Brenna Olmert and Lola Conway. Not pictured are McKenzie Henry, Ella Milton and Siobhan Strott.

A troop of La Jolla Girl Scouts is growing the reach and spreading the word of a new Feeding San Diego initiative as its Bronze Award project.

Troop 4978, composed of 10- and 11-year-old girls from La Jolla Elementary and La Jolla Country Day schools, is reaching out to local restaurants to encourage them to sign up for Feeding San Diego’s “Gift a Meal” program. Through the initiative, guests at participating restaurants have the option to add to their order a $15 meal for a person facing hunger.

Once a restaurant has at least five donated meals, it prepares the food, alerts Feeding San Diego via the MealConnect app, and Feeding San Diego sends a trained MealConnect volunteer driver or community partner to pick up the meals and get them to people in need.

The Scouts next will reach out to their schools and communities to let them know about the program and the restaurants on board.

The troop includes Adalee Branstetter, Lola Conway, Sabrina Hochberg, Elsa Shuman Pettersson, Brenna Olmert, Lily Piehl, Isabella Shah, Sadie Van Huizum, Genevieve Wierzynski, McKenzie Henry, Ella Milton, Siobhan Strott, Amelia Vanderpump and Tatum Takata.

To earn the Bronze Award, Scouts must identify a problem in their community and come up with a way to help.

“My parents own restaurants in San Diego and I know that most local restaurant owners and their employees need help right now,” Lily said. “Asking our community to order meals from restaurants and then giving them to people who are hungry seems like a great way for everyone to help each other.”

Isabella said that when the group was brainstorming for ideas, “we thought about [physical] things that might need fixing, but we wanted to help something in the long term.”

Sabrina said she learned that “especially during the pandemic, people are in need of a lot of things, especially food. Restaurants are struggling, so we need to help them to keep their business going and help people so they don’t starve.”

The girls set out in late February to contact local restaurant managers to build a network of participating restaurants. Many took it as an opportunity to practice public speaking and leadership in accord with Girl Scout goals.

“I’m pretty shy, but when I contacted the restaurant, I know what we are doing is going to help a lot of people, so I know if I talk to them and encourage them to do something, it can make a big difference,” Brenna said.

Girl Scout Sabrina Hochberg, Candor owner Giuseppe Ciuffa and Girl Scout Brenna Olmert
Candor owner Giuseppe Ciuffa stands with Girl Scouts Sabrina Hochberg (left) and Brenna Olmert after Candor agreed to sign up for Feeding San Diego’s “Gift a Meal” program.

“My favorite part of the project is helping people and turning something small into something a lot bigger,” Sadie said.

Elsa added, “My favorite part is talking to the owners of restaurants that we would go to a lot before the quarantine … and learning new restaurants to try.”

“We learned there are so many people going hungry in San Diego, and it’s really great knowing we are helping them,” Genevieve said. “It’s kind of surreal knowing that we are making such a big impact on the community.”

Dana Williams, director of marketing and communications at Feeding San Diego, agreed.

“We are really proud of these girls. We’re really excited about this initiative, and I think this is great reflection of how a community can come together and be the solution,” Williams said. “This is a great example of how young people are part of the solution as much as anyone.”

The Gift a Meal program will continue “as long as people need help,” Williams said, including through San Diego Restaurant Week in April.

Restaurants can sign up to participate any time. To learn more and find participating restaurants, visit ◆