The ‘millennials’ taught me empathy, perseverance and devotion

We have heard it repeatedly — the millennials are self-centered, seek instant gratification and get bored easily. Well, I have seen a different side of this maligned demographic in close quarters. Disclaimer: One of the characters in this story is my daughter so discount any parental fawning (I promise I tried to be as objective as possible) you may perceive. Enough of the preamble. What was it that I learnt?

Let’s start with a fundamental human necessity to survive — eating. Think of the last time you had to skip a meal or two and how you felt? Likely your low blood sugar led to light-headedness, headache and even nausea perhaps. And I would hazard that most of the people reading this are likely not encountering this basic human survival challenge daily. But glance around you, nay do further than glance, look harder at the panhandler at the traffic intersection or venture into the homeless camps and this will hit you and you can’t ignore it any more (as it does for me every other Saturday for a couple of hours but that’s a topic for tackling another day)

Where am I going with all of this? 6 high-school seniors in the summer of 2017 set out to brainstorm what they could do to help with this epidemic of hunger. The mission to collect leftover food from restaurants to be delivered to food pantries was the genesis. First hand I saw the initial excitement of the new ideation and numerous brainstorming sessions among the core group, then the gradual recruitment of other like-minded teenagers. This followed by the expected (maybe not by them) slowdown as life took over and each of them filled out their summer schedules with other activities. But, the team never lost touch with the mission and even through all of this they kept up with the weekly touch base sessions. A website was launched — theofficialpantryproject.com — and the initiative gradually took shape. But as with every startup, there were hiccups. Some of the original team were not contributing enough, so they parted ways while the committed ones recruited others and persevered. The number of restaurants that feigned interest but never followed through tested their mettle. Identifying a soup kitchen that was willing to take leftover food that was properly preserved was challenging. The logistics of picking up food from the restaurants, preserving it and then transporting that to Martha’s Kitchen (the identified soup kitchen) consistently and constantly was a big hurdle. But perseverance, a stroke of good luck and undying devotion to the cause has led to something amazing. Perseverance to handle the rejections by numerous restaurants until they landed Amaravathi first followed by Boudin Bakery of Cupertino. Perseverance to stick with the core idea even as some of the peripheral distractions fell by the wayside. Good luck of getting introduced by Mark Metzler (the amazing founder of The Sleeping Bags of Silicon Valley — a non-profit that I will write about at a later date — who introduced them to John Chang — the founder of Bimpies.com). Undying devotion to the cause even amidst final year academic hell, college app deadlines, parental pressures (not me I promise)…

Where are they today — Boudin bakery in Cupertino has demonstrated continued commitment to delivering leftover loaves of bread (the headlining photo had 100 loaves at the last drop off). Bimpies.com — led by the charismatic John Chang — provides on-demand drivers to pick up and drop off the bread twice a week rain or shine. Our house is the holding spot overnight — so we are witness to the continued goodness and satisfaction TOPP (abbreviated by the teams for TheOfficialPantryProject) is bringing to the San Jose community.

I fully believe this is just the beginning and these teens — young adults rather — have defied the stereotyped millennial and have taught a Gen X’er like me the true joy in being alive — helping others in need. #Respect. Now for the short commercial — if any of you know of restaurants or soup kitchens in the bay area that may be willing to donate or in need of food, reach out to the principals listed on the website. And we can watch an amazing idea grow even bigger.

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