- Associated Press - Sunday, October 18, 2015

CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) - Sophie Bernstein first came up with the plan when she was 11. Plant a vegetable garden as a way to combat hunger and promote nutrition in the St. Louis area.

A $36,000 grant is helping further her goal.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (https://bit.ly/1GeueYq ) reports that this summer, Sophie was among 15 youths across the country awarded with $36,000 from the Hellen Diller Family Foundation, started in 2007 by a San Francisco-area philanthropist who died this year.

Sophie, now 15, lives in Clayton. She and her two older siblings were all inspired to live a life of service by their military father. She watched her older brother and sister organize service projects and sports clinics for children with autism. They co-founded VolunTEEN Nation, which connects teens and college students to volunteer opportunities nationwide and just won a $25,000 grant of its own.

“I’m more outdoorsy,” Sophie said. “I like getting down in the dirt.”



She was already gardening when she visited the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry and was struck by the lack of healthy options on the shelves. So Sophie used gift money from her Bat Mitzvah marking her 13th birthday to plant more gardens, choosing schools and community centers serving low-income families. She wanted children to help care for the gardens and learn the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, and dubbed her project Go Healthy St. Louis.

“I’m able to teach preschoolers about healthy eating and donate all the food to a food bank,” she said.

Sophie just planted her 19th garden at the St. Vincent Home for Children, with help from Boy Scouts. She has organized hundreds of volunteers. Go Healthy St. Louis has donated more than 5,500 pounds of produce to food banks and held food drives that have garnered more than 15,600 pounds of healthy options.

“I honestly started out with dirt and a pack of seeds,” Sophie said, “and it’s grown so much for there.”

Along the way, Sophie has learned how to build raised garden beds, what grows well in the Midwest and how to ward off squirrels and rabbits with netting. She created a curriculum that can be catered to each preschool’s needs that includes learning as how seeds grow, trying new vegetables and making healthy snacks.

“When I’m in the garden, and I see a kid smile and taste a tomato and say, ‘I want to plant a garden,’ I love it. I really love interacting with the kids,” Sophie said.

Ryan Farmer, communications director for the St. Louis Area Foodbank, called Sophie an important ally in the fight against hunger. The organization serves residents in 26 counties, providing food to more than 392,000 people every year, more than a third of which are children.

With her $36,000, Sophie said she plans to start more gardens and provide help and support for others across the Midwest.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com

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