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San Diego Girl Scouts volunteer to help prevent food waste

Forgoing their usual Saturday morning activities, 19 Girl Scouts from across San Diego County gathered alongside parents and troop leaders at a local food bank in Sorrento Mesa to save edible apples and potatoes from being discarded in landfills.

Organized by nonprofit Feeding San Diego in collaboration with Girl Scouts San Diego, the young volunteers, ages 8 to 16, sorted through thousands of pounds of imperfect produce, ultimately packing 1,900 pounds of potatoes and 3,600 pounds of apples. The food will make its way to an estimated 1,375 local households. In return for their work, the earth-conscious kids got to take home the Climate Controller food rescue patch.

“I really want to help the planet be better,” said 12-year-old Rebecca Caragan, who lives in Chula Vista and has been a Girl Scout since she was a kindergartner. The cadet, whose was wearing a brown vest decorated with badges, dutifully gleaned apples during the two-hour shift, and said she enjoyed the experience of scanning fruit for impurities.

Headquartered in Sorrento Mesa, Feeding San Diego works, in part, to collect no-longer-wanted produce from 600 donors, including farmers, grocers and wholesalers. The organization also relies on a network of thousands of volunteers to sort through donated goods. It then redistributes the food deemed fit for human consumption to families in need, with produce that doesn’t pass the quality test given away to area farmers for their animals. In 2022, the nonprofit says it prevented nearly 28 million pounds of food from going into landfills.

The organization teamed with its corporate partner SOLV Energy to create the Climate Controller food rescue patch, which is meant to teach Girl Scouts about the impact of food waste on the climate.

“Today’s young girls are tomorrow’s leaders, and we just really want to impart the importance of empathy — and also action,” said Dana Williams, who is Feeding San Diego’s director of marketing and helped create the curriculum behind the patch. “We all can make a difference, no matter what age.”

The food rescue patch was first released in 2020 and can be achieved through volunteer work or other activities that limit food waste. To date, nearly 600 scouts have earned the patch, Williams said.

“We talk to kids about the concept of a food print and just like a footprint that you leave, we all have a food print, which is really the impact that is caused by the food that we eat. So the transportation of food, the storage of food and then the waste of food,” Williams said. “We educate kids that when food goes into a landfill, it creates greenhouse gas emissions...and they can help prevent that by not putting food into the landfill to begin with.”

Saturday’s sorting activity felt familiar to 10-year-old Laney Melton of Carlsbad, who attended the event with her mom and fellow troop members.

“It’s easy because I’m really good at picking (the good apples) out at the store,” she said.

The kids also got to witness first-hand the demand for free produce and other salvaged goods. Outside Feeding San Diego’s doors, a crowd of people queued up in advance of the food bank’s regular distribution hours from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday at the Sorrento Mesa location, some arriving more than an hour early to pick up a free bag of food, no questions asked.

Meanwhile, the apple and potatoes packed during the Girl Scouts’ volunteer shift will go to agency partners. Some of it will reach Rosa Parks Elementary and Bayside STEAM Academy families through Feeding San Diego’s school pantry program.

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