Since she was a child, Hanna Carey has valued community service.
Carey, a Wantagh High School senior, recalled first learning about the importance of giving back and helping others at Wantagh Kiwanis Club events that she attended with her family. The Girl Scouts, which Carey first joined in kindergarten, also stressed service.
Carey is putting these lessons in service toward her Gold Award project with Girl Scout Troop 3432. Dubbed “Hanna’s Hunger Warriors,” the project aims to collect 2,000 pounds of food and supplies to donate to Island Harvest Food Bank in Bethpage.
“It’s quite a lot, and I know it’s a big undertaking,” she said. “No matter how much food I end up donating, I’ll be helping people. And that’s what matters to me the most.”
The Gold Award is the highest honor that a Girl Scout can earn, and each year only 6 percent of the 2.5 million Girl Scouts nationwide qualify for it. To earn it, a scout must complete a community service project that includes succession plan for it to continue in the future. The Wantagh High School Key Club will take over her project when she attends SUNY New Paltz next year.
The first step for Carey was deciding on a topic. Among the most pressing issues amid the coronavirus pandemic has been food insecurity caused by unemployment. More than 279,000 Long Islanders alone have lost their jobs, Carey said, citing an Island Harvest Food Bank statistic.
“With more people needing food, and less people donating, the food pantries are running dry,” she said.
One of the most surprising findings of her research was how many children are affected by food insecurity — about 39 percent of people facing food insecurity are under 18.
Over the summer, Carey works with children who have special needs at Camp Kehila in Wheatley Heights. She said food insecurity is often an issue among families there.
“It really makes you realize how fortunate you are,” she said. “I could go to dinner with my friends and have no worry about paying, while some people have no idea where they’re going to get their next meal.”
Carey pitched her idea to the Nassau County Girl Scout executive board in November before she reached out to Island Harvest with her plan. The agency gave her enough boxes to collect supplies and provided insight into the issue on Long Island.
Carey worked with Heidi Felix, the Key Club adviser, who helped her figure out the logistics of her project and set goals. “I had to reach out to a lot of local businesses to ask if they could be a drop-off site,” Carey said. “It was out of my comfort zone and nothing like I’ve done before. But the more I did it, the more I got used to it.”
Carey launched Hanna’s Hunger Warriors on March 1 and set up five drop-off sites: Phil’s Pizza in Wantagh, Simply Greekalicious in Wantagh, the Wantagh Fire Department Headquarters, Wantagh Public Library and All American Wontons in Massapequa.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the need for food distribution events has grown as so many have been left unemployed,” said Kevin Regan, the public information officer of the Wantagh Fire Department. “We wish Hannah the very best for a successful food drive and encourage [everyone] to support this worthy cause.”
“So far, I’ve had an overwhelming response,” Carey said, adding that she was also the featured beneficiary of Food Truck Friday on March 5 in Levittown. Carey set up a booth for people to donate and, within an hour, filled a full box.
“Though the pandemic has created a new set of challenges for people, I hope that my message is enough to evoke a sense of togetherness for the community,” she said. “If we work together, we can help crush food shortages on Long Island.”