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State Honoree

Photo of State Honoree Zoe Nelles

Zoe Nelles

Palmer, Alaska

Zoe Nelles, 17, of Palmer, Alaska, a senior at Palmer High School, provides bags of nonperishable food every Friday to 60 students in need who receive free meals at school during the week, but who may have little to eat on the weekends. She came up with the idea for “The Sandwich Project” in the fall of 2018 after hearing that another school had a similar program that fed 20 children. “I was surprised by the number and wondered if we had this large of a need at Palmer,” Zoe said.

To begin, she asked her school nurse to identify students who were at risk of weekend hunger and persuaded a teacher to be her advisor. She then started assembling bags of nonperishable food items in her own kitchen for seven students. As the need became more apparent, Zoe’s program began to grow with the help of donations from community members, a food drive at her school and appeals on social media. When she received a grant from a local foundation, she expanded her project to two local elementary schools. Zoe then arranged additional assistance from a local food bank, which contributes ingredients for her food bags; from her school’s culinary arts teacher, who offers space in her classroom to store food and make the meals; and from her school's National Honor Society members, who help assemble the food bags. “Being a kid is hard enough,” said Zoe, “but not knowing if you are going to eat over the weekend is unimaginable.”