by Suzanne Roth
“Once you volunteer at Toni’s Kitchen, it opens your eyes to a hidden hunger problem you didn’t even know existed in the suburbs.”
Aneekah Uddin is passionate about ending hunger and the stigma attached to food insecurity. The 17 year old Montclair High School junior says the first time she volunteered at Toni’s made her confront some assumptions she held about who patronized soup kitchens.
“I met a wonderful client in the dining room who did magic tricks for me. Our interaction made me see him as a person, not just someone labeled as ‘homeless’. And when you really look around Montclair, at [people seeking shelter at] the library for instance, I’ve realized that there’s hunger in Montclair and actually everywhere.”
Her experience volunteering at Toni’s was nothing less than transformative. Like many in her generation who heed the call to action, Aneekah hit the ground running. She co-founded The Montclair High School Key Club’s Hunger Outreach Subcommittee, inspiring fellow students to raise awareness about food insecurity. They have held food drives at the high school and are planning additional drives at local supermarkets. She is deploying students to work on a new program to collect unused food from restaurants on Church Street to be distributed to the needy. And they are working on plans with Terry’s Serendipity Cafe to collect canned goods at future performances.
“I want to raise awareness at the high school about the pervasiveness of hunger,” says Aneekah. “If you can start [educating people] in high school, it will help get rid of the shame and misunderstanding about hunger, and make future adults more willing to help.”
Every one of Toni’s more than 1,000 volunteers gives–and gets back– something extraordinary when they work at Toni’s Kitchen. Says Aneekah,”I love the inclusive and warm atmosphere at Toni’s. I love seeing the classes offered to clients to help them get back into the workforce. And I always leave feeling refreshed and accomplished.”
Accomplishment is something Aneekah knows a little bit about. She is the co-president of the Science Olympiad team, the mechanical lead in the Robotics team, Secretary of the Treasury for The Civics and Government Institute, a participant in the Model United Nations, a cross country runner and a member of the fencing team. Oh, and did we mention Aneekah handles these all these responsibilities with tremendous grace, while taking five Advanced Placement classes and maintaining an above 4.0 grade point average?
She plans to study computer science in college because, “technology is kind of taking over the world!” But first, she wants to travel and meet people who don’t necessarily share her political views. She says, “The only way to reconcile the political divide is by communicating with each other.”
When asked about what she likes best about working at Toni’s, Aneekah says simply, “Volunteering at Toni’s makes you a better person.”