Kiran Sridhar is an electronic matchmaker. Instead of connecting couples, however, Kiran uses his talents to get food to hungry people who need it. At 16, Kiran is the founder and executive director of Waste No Food, a San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit that uses a web-based marketplace to connect farms and restaurants with charities, taking food that would otherwise go to waste and serving it to the hungry and homeless.
“Every day in the United States, the amount of food wasted could fill the Rose Bowl stadium,” explains Kiran. “I find it unconscionable that people are going to bed hungry.” Kiran sees the larger spiral of impact that food insecurity has on individuals and society as a whole. “People who can’t guarantee three meals a day can’t benefit their family, the economy, or society. When so many people can’t guarantee meals, it’s a real societal problem.” On the other hand, he says, “by guaranteeing people food, we can create a real social equalizer.” Kiran’s mission is to make sure no one in the country goes hungry, and he is well on his way to accom- plishing that goal with his simple solution and a lot of determination. The words of Norman Borlaug resonate for him: “Without food, man can live but a few weeks; without it, all other components of social justice are meaningless.”
Kiran was only in seventh grade when the magnitude of the food insecurity problem hit home for him. As a volunteer at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, he was shocked to see the number of people who required food, particularly the children. Kiran recalls, “I felt an obligation to do something about it. I have a comfortable life, a good education, and all the tools I need at my disposal. I knew I could make a difference.”
Kiran’s resolve sprung from his upbringing as a Hindu and his family’s strong commitment to helping others. While many people would have been content volunteering at a soup kitchen, Kiran saw bigger possibilities and, at the age of 12, founded Waste No Food. He started by talking with restaurants and charities to understand why food was going to waste when so many needed it. “All of them were very well-intentioned,” Kiran recalls, “but there was no mechanism for them to connect with one another.” Waste No Food provides that platform, allowing food donors to log on and list excess food and service organizations to match their needs with the listings.
Kiran recruited his first participating restau- rant in 2010. “I started out with food donors and charities that were extremely supportive,” he says. His enthusiasm rubbed off on others, helping him recruit his parents, expert advisors, and hundreds of volunteers to get the project off the ground. To date, Waste No Food has provided 60,000 meals to people in need. Now a junior in high school, Kiran sees the next step as a national expansion of his model and is negotiating agreements to make this happen.
Kiran finds time for Waste No Food every day, juggling his passion for service with a busy teen schedule. “This work definitely puts what I go through in my own life in perspective,” Kiran says. “To see the big challenges some people face just being able to eat keeps me on track. It’s also great to see that a small group of committed people can make a big impact. I now know I have the power to change things.”
Kiran describes letters from children the program benefits in which they tell him that they can concentrate on their studies and are considering higher education. These notes inspire him to continue and to dream big. “For me,” he says, “the core of compassion is not just empathizing with other people, but being willing to take action with your unique skill sets to make a difference in people’s lives.”