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Just for Kidz nonprofit continues outreach, operations from St. Louis to New York and beyond

By: Jessica Meszaros

Meghana Bharadwaj [striped T-shirt] and fellow JFK chapter members during Stack the Snacks delivery day at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School in Ithaca, New York. [Photo provided by Bharadwaj]

From age 10, Wildwood resident Meghana Bharadwaj has had a passion for human rights –ignited by annual family trips to India where she witnessed people of all ages struggle with food and poverty. For those people and more across the world, Bharadwaj took a stand and created her own nonprofit.

Just for Kidz [jfkorg.org] is built on the goal of supporting under-privileged people worldwide through activism and service. The 501[c]3 organization currently has three chapters – one in St. Louis, one in New York City and one in Ithaca, New York. It is run by students in high schools and colleges, including the local chapter at Lafayette High, from which Bharadwaj graduated.

Bharadwaj is currently a Human Rights major at Columbia University in New York, but she spent her freshman year at Cornell University in Ithaca.

The organization tackled its first project in 2010, raising $1,200 dollars to change the asbestos-filled roof of Dheenabandu Ashram, an orphanage in Walajapet, India. Each project term since, JFK selects an under-recognized but deserving, youth-benefiting facility and fundraises for a major project. The organization’s most recent project was in Arusha, Tanzania, in a collaboration with the Good Hope Orphanage to build a secondary school for about 700 orphans.

“There’s so much more work to do, and so many more people to help,” Bharadwaj said. “I’m just happy to do my part, because I think we owe it to the communities, and I owe it to other young people to be able to activate them and get them engaged.”

JFK strives to connect youth with humanitarian opportunities and projects pertaining to topics like poverty, homelessness and children’s rights. The organization’s executive team and national board has around 15 people, with about 20 to 30 people in each chapter.

Locally, it has worked with Angels’ Arms St. Louis to help foster siblings stay together, and, on Jan. 13, with Winter Homeless Outreach where members of the St. Louis Chapter delivered blankets, coats, clothing and hygiene kits to Youth Emergency Services in St. Louis City.

Volunteers with the St. Louis Chapter JFK chapter help with Winter Homeless Outreach on Jan. 13. [From left, back row] Gwen, Sadhana, Vrisha, Julia, Anna and Pranav; [front row] Aishva, Preston and Shreya. [Photo by Meghana Bharadwaj]

The Cornell University JFK chapter spearheaded a program called Stack the Snacks. Bharadwaj and her colleagues created in-classroom food pantries that provided healthy breakfast food options to children. The organization won a $2,000 grant in April 2017 to launch a pilot version of the program at Beverley J. Martin Elementary in Ithaca. The pilot supplied the in-class pantries for about a month, with the remaining funds going toward awareness materials.

“Food insecurity is a really complex issue, and it varies by community,” Bharadwaj said. “The big issue students were facing in Ithaca was that because kids’ parents were working so many jobs and buses would drop off late because of the weather, kids weren’t getting access to their free breakfasts even though that’s federally supported.”

JFK’s programs aren’t “one size fits all,”Bharadwaj said. Each program is tailored to fit the needs of those receiving the services through direct communication with the people and communities in need.

“Before we do anything, my first thing is to always talk to community members,” Bharadwaj said. “I always approach them first before we get experts involved, who might have worked in a specific department for years, but also might be more on the academia side and know more about the technical aspects than what’s happening on the ground.”

One of the organization’s goals for 2018 is to spread the Stack the Snacks program to other areas in New York and St. Louis, with future sights set on cities like Baltimore, Maryland. According to Bharadwaj, the organization already has been in touch with officials in the Ferguson-Florissant School District about expanding Stack the Snacks locally.

“We’re going to bring that program in there, and tailor it to the needs of that district,” Bharadwaj said. “We want Stack the Snacks to be a program where we can find short-term and long-term resources for youth in need. Maybe breakfast isn’t the issue for them and it’s something else they need, or maybe something else is still missing from the programs they already have.”

At the end of the day, the program is all about kids helping kids, no matter where they live.


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