JA Fellow starts non-profit to help feed peers

Here at JA, we know that our programs are full of incredible students. We know that we are in a unique position in which we get to help inspire and grow students' passions, and watch them succeed in front of our eyes. But every now and then, we get to share stories that truly blow us away.

Lauren Seroyer is one of those stories. A JA Fellow and rising Junior at Peachtree Ridge High School in Gwinnett County, Seroyer has begun to tackle a problem that many people twice her age never think about: food insecurity. She was inspired by a classmate that confided in her that he didn't have enough food at home. Instead of just feeling bad, she did something about it.

"When I called the local food pantry, I was shocked to find out that they couldn't give their resources to anyone outside of their service area," said Seroyer.

So she decided to start her own. Community Assistance and Resource Effort (CARE) Closets, is a confidential school-based food pantry. The food comes from school clubs and the local community, and is run by  student council members and supporting teachers. The first, at Seroyer's own Peachtree Ridge, began with just with a lunch announcement to the school, and grew from there.

Since March, CARE Closets has gained local and national recognition. In April they were the recipient of the Spark Prize from United Way of Greater Atlanta, providing $25,000 in funding to help reach their goal of being in every high school in Gwinnett County. Then, just a few weeks ago Seroyer was one of two recipients of the Community Choice Youth Award from 365Black, a McDonald's program that recognizes people who are working to make a difference in the African American community. She received the $10,000 award on the national stage, alongside honorees like Toni Braxton and Wendy Raquel Robinson.

"I didn't expect for it to explode like this," said Seroyer. "Everything has been moving so quickly, but it's been so wonderful. I never expected any type of recognition, but I have had so many opportunities, and been able to grow the program larger than I'd ever imagined."

So how does it work? Seroyer has develop a tool kit for schools that spells out how to implement the program. It requires just a student council member and sponsoring teachers to begin, and can start providing food to those in need immediately. Seroyer is confident that Peachtree Ridge - and one day all high schools in the county - will be able to continue the program long after she graduates.

Seroyer is an inspiration to her friends, classmates and adults alike. When asked what her advice to people her age would be, she confidently replied that "No idea is a bad idea. The most common thing my peers say to me is 'I never thought that making a change could begin with just a simple idea.' You can't be afraid to try things, and you can't give up." said Seroyer.

The biggest lesson she's learned is one that we could all use a little more often: Never look down on anyone, because you never know what the person next to you is going through.

The 365Black awards will air on BET on September 1st at 9PM.