Her cupcakes went from an inviting display of dainty desserts to a pile of empty foil cups in a matter of moments.
And, as Girl Scout Anushka tells it, one of the cupcake destroyers scrambled up to her afterward and whispered a simple request: “Can you come back?”
Unbeknownst to her, the kids of the Gateway 180 homeless shelter in St. Louis hadn’t enjoyed a sweet treat in weeks. After the colossal cupcake triumph, Anushka did end up coming back: she found herself volunteering at local food pantries once a week for the next eight years.
Seeing the kids enjoy the cupcakes so much also inspired Anushka’s Gold Award project: a cookbook focused on utilizing food pantry staples.
“Meeting these kids opened my eyes to food scarcity, even in my rather privileged community,” she says. “So, I made it my mission to combat hunger in my community. Food insecurity plagues our nation, and the lack of dietary knowledge contributes to this epidemic. Often when given a mix of ingredients from food pantries, people have no idea what to make with them, leading to food waste and empty stomachs.”
Anushka created 60 recipes for her cookbook, From the Pantry to a Healthier Lifestyle, using her years of first-hand experience seeing what is typically available to families in a food pantry and her love of cooking. Each recipe was tested by her team of volunteers, and they put an emphasis on making sure each meal was well balanced … with the occasional sweet treat, like her cupcakes.
“I distributed my cookbook to more than 200 food pantries nationally,” Anushka says. “A linked survey asking about recipe clarity and simplicity helped track the success of the book,” with 98.5% of readers saying they learned something new and 97.5% saying they would make a recipe again.
She followed up the publication of her book, which is available on Amazon with all proceeds going to food pantries, with a series of book release parties and cooking demonstrations where she showed attendees how easy her recipes were to make.
“Through my project, I impacted thousands of people,” Anushka says. “While this project impacted others, it has impacted me the most. The satisfaction of knowing that I changed the lives of others as a teenager brings a joy unmatched by any other. [It] taught me that I have the potential to change the world, one person at a time.”
An impact on her community had been made, but Anushka still found herself wanting to address the bigger issue at hand: food scarcity.
“Not having enough food is not only a national crisis but also a global issue,” she says. “In our nation alone, 1 in 7 people rely on food pantries to receive food—which is over 40 million people.”
So, she started her own nonprofit, Young Chefs STL, which now has 27 global chapters. Through the organization’s website, Anushka has been able to share her knowledge to teach chapter members how food scarcity impacts everyone with virtual cooking demos and webinars.
“My recorded cooking demonstrations showcasing recipes in my book have already made it across the globe, which further shows my project’s global link,” she says. “My project matters because it has educated others, moving our society one step closer to eradicating food insecurity.”