Go healthy project produces tons of produce for food banks

Sophie Bernstein

By Rebecca Ferman, Jewish Light Staff

What started as a modest bat mitzvah project has blossomed into 5,352 pounds of fresh produce for St. Louis families and a long-term commitment to reduce childhood hunger in America. At the helm is 15-year-old Sophie Bernstein, the creator of Go Healthy St. Louis, which brings fresh, healthy produce from community gardens to area food banks. 

Sophie is one of the 15 teenagers from across the country to receive the 2015 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award, which is given to those that make a positive influence in their community. The Helen Diller Family Foundation, located in California, has been giving these awards to Jewish teenagers since 2007, which also includes a cash prize of $36,000. 

With help from her family and more than 750 teen volunteers, Sophie has been able to make a difference in not only St. Louis but nationwide. The Light caught up with Sophie, who will be a sophomore at Clayton High School and attends Congregation Shaare Emeth, to discuss Go Healthy and her award. 

What motivated or inspired you to do something like this in the first place?

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For my bat mitzvah project, I created a vegetable garden to produce and donate to food shelters. When I first visited the shelters, there were limited healthy food options, so I created my project to build and grow special gardens at low-income preschools to educate young children and to create small produce to give to the food bank.

What does Go Healthy St. Louis do?

Go Healthy St. Louis is committed to fighting childhood hunger. We build, plant and maintain gardens at low-income preschools, community centers, and food banks. 

Who have been your biggest supporters?

My family and the volunteers [for Go Healthy St. Louis]. When I was younger, my dad was employed in the military and he taught my siblings and me the importance of service. My siblings were able to give back (older siblings Simone and Jake founded VolunTeen Nation, which offers hundreds of volunteer possibilities to teens nationwide), and I was able to follow their success and give back as well.  They have definitely given me a lot of support throughout all of this. And the volunteers have been amazing. They have helped me grow all of these gardens.

What is the biggest reward of doing what you do?

Seeing the smiles on kids’ faces, and the effect of these gardens is absolutely incredible. Most of these people don’t have the ability to have fresh produce, and it is absolutely incredible to see them pick their first tomato or carrot from the ground. I am amazed at the power of a seed… I started with some dirt and tomato seeds, and it has grown so much from there.

Do you have any plans for college, or what you might want to do as a career?

At the moment, I’m not really sure about a career. But with this incredible award I will be able to expand my project’s reach and impact by growing more gardens in my community and nationwide. Career-wise, I just want to be able to help people.

Do you have any advice for people looking to get involved or make a difference somehow?

Find your interests and get out there. Find an opportunity that really needs your skills. If you go ask people, they will hopefully give you that opportunity; the worst thing they can say is “no.” They most likely will say “yes.” I was little, and I only had a couple skills to begin with, but [people] were willing to accept them. They taught me about how people had limited options. You get out there, and you will hopefully be able to find an opportunity. 

To learn more about Sophie and her project, visit dillerteenawards.org/recipient/sophie-bernstein. To learn more about the award, visit dillerteenawards.org