“To help address the huge hunger problem in Cuyahoga County, we are going to attempt to break the world record for making the longest line of sandwiches. 40,000 Sunbutter and jelly sandwiches which will be distributed to 37 soup kitchens, shelters, and subsidized housing organizations in and around the county.”
I had the pleasure to interview Lena Leland. Lena is a junior at Beachwood High School in Beachwood, Ohio. Lena is involved in numerous organizations in and outside of school, including SAY (Social Advocates for Youth), Ecology Club, Student Council, and more. When she isn’t busy with a project, Lena loves to travel, explore Northeast Ohio, and most importantly, watch The Office.
Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?
When I was ten years old my family took a trip to San Francisco, where I had my first experience witnessing homelessness. That trip sparked my passion for helping others less fortunate than myself, and that passion has been a huge part of me ever since. From asking for canned food on my birthdays to helping build a school for kids in Peru, I have created and participated in many drives and efforts throughout the years.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
I organized a coat drive last winter and in the process of cleaning out the coat pockets I found that someone had left their tooth (or…someone’s tooth).
Can you describe how you/your school is making a significant social impact?
Right now we are in the process of organizing Herd Against Hunger, an event which will take place on October 14th. This event has been in the works for many months and I’m so excited to see it coming to fruition! The event is hosted by Beachwood City Schools, however it is open to anyone that wants to help volunteer! To help address the huge hunger problem in Cuyahoga County, we are going to attempt to break the world record for making the longest line of sandwiches. 40,000 Sunbutter and jelly sandwiches which will be distributed to 37 soup kitchens, shelters, and subsidized housing organizations in and around the county.
Wow! Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted this cause?
Rather than a specific person, all of the people living in food insecure households impact the cause because they are the reason the cause was born. It isn’t enough to just acknowledge the fact that people live like this — we need to do something about it! Also, each person who volunteers at this event will impact the cause, and right now we have 252 and counting! It makes my heart so happy to see so many people that are eager to come together for the greater good.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I have a lot to learn about policy and politics; as of now rather than looking at the big picture I’m trying to solve one problem at a time in my own community. I look forward to learning more and gaining a better understanding of how problems arise and how government can affect change, but for right now I don’t want to pretend I know more than I do. However, I can say that from what I’ve observed, I can’t believe the majority of politicians feel much compassion for those living in need. As for how the community can help, merely getting involved makes a huge difference.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. I wish someone told me that large-scale projects were going to be frustrating. I think I knew that going in, I just didn’t know to what extent. With every drive or effort I’ve done there have been people that make false promises, who don’t care, or who make rude remarks to me. In fact, just today someone told me they won’t sign up for Herd Against Hunger because they ‘don’t believe in it,’ then walked away. It’s easy to get caught up in all of that, however when you take a step back and remember why you do what you do, the frustration seems so insignificant.
2. If someone had been able to convince me that my Herd Against Hunger idea wasn’t a crazy one, I would’ve been able to start on it earlier. When I first had the idea for Herd Against Hunger last year, I did the math to see what it would cost to make 40,000 sandwiches. According to my calculations it would cost approximately $90,000. I considered dropping the idea right then and there — I figured it was completely implausible. However, due to our unbelievably generous sponsors such as Sunbutter, Welch’s, Orlando Baking Company, and AVI, we are able to put on this event and help feed 40,000 people. Eventually, I somehow gained the confidence to keep pushing the idea to my school. I’ve learned that if you work hard enough and you’re truly passionate, very little is impossible when it comes to going after what you care about.
3. Planning or organizing something is a commitment. I admit that there have been a lot of times over the years when I wanted to take on a project but I didn’t have the time to. If you can’t do it right, it’s better to wait because it’ll all pay off in the long run.
4. If people want to help, let them. For the longest time I was like a helicopter mom for my projects; I was so scared something would go wrong that I felt I needed to be in control of all of it; that way, if something DID go wrong, I could only blame myself. I admit that I still struggle to hand the reins to someone else, even if I need help. But I’ve found that the people that want to help you want to help because they are passionate about what you’re passionate about and/or they want to see you succeed. Either way, let them be a part of it! The more, the merrier.
5. Be proud! I’ve shied away from getting interviewed or letting my pride in my achievements show. I didn’t want to seem stuck up or make things all about me. But then it clicked: if I can inspire one person, just ONE other person that needed a push to plan something or make a difference, that’s incredibly significant. I want others to feel what I feel and to be passionate about what I’m passionate about, and the only way to do this is to use my voice to stand up for what I believe in.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve always loved the quote “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Teddy Roosevelt said that. When I am feeling unmotivated or like I can’t do anything because I’m only in high school, I just remember that quote. The scale of how you help isn’t the point; it’s about doing what you can with the resources you have available.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂
That’s the easiest question I’ve answered yet! Barack Obama, 100%. I was in first grade when he was elected in 2008, and since then I’ve always looked up to him and his strength, courage, and intelligence. I had the pleasure of seeing him speak when he visited Cleveland last month, but to be able to have a conversation with him would be unreal.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My instagram is @lena.leland! I use that most 🙂
Originally published at medium.com