Lab School junior’s project feeds the needy and helps reduce food waste

Rhia Chadha (Left) with Audrey Johnson who ran the recently closed You Can Make It shelter. (Photo courtesy of Rhia Chadha)

Staff Writer

Riya Chadha is a junior at U. of C. Lab School who started a club that repackages school lunches and distributes them to shelters throughout Hyde Park. The Food Surplus Club’s mission is to reduce food waste and prevent food insecurity by recycling untouched, excess food from the school’s cafeteria.

Chadha got the idea for the club from watching similar programs at Rush University Hospital and Palos Health. “In hospital cafeterias, there is a lot of food being wasted. Cafeteria workers were disappointed about that,” Chadha said. “A lot of people came together and found a way to take some of the food from those cafeterias and bring it over to different shelters. One was the Lutheran Church, which is where I volunteered over the summer. I took the idea from there and made it a part of the Lab community.”

In her sophomore year, Chadha started a community service project, called the Food Surplus project. Every Friday, cafeteria staff would take extra food such as packaged sandwiches and salads from the cafeteria and deliver them to ‘You Can Make It’, a shelter that closed recently.

During the project, Chadha was the only student working on it but administrators at Lab school supported her and her vision. “For the project, it was mostly me, the administrators that I approached, faculty members and supervisors, along with cafeteria workers- there was a whole team behind it.”

Now as a junior, Chadha decided to create a club to work with students on her mission to end food insecurity in Hyde Park. Chadha and her peers meet every Monday during lunch to pack lunches, discuss the cycle of food insecurity and what factors contribute to someone not being able to access food. Currently, the club delivers food to ‘Door of Hope’

As the project grows, Chadha hopes to work with more shelters, hospitals, and schools in the neighborhood. “What I want to do is expand the project to the Food School cafeteria and the University of Chicago Medical Cafeteria, since this project was done at a hospital. Growing the project and getting some more cafeterias involved with it would be amazing,” Chadha said.