Isabel Povey began fighting food insecurity at the age of seven! Since then, she has been advocating to find solutions to alleviate hunger not only in New Hampshire but also around the globe. Isabel knows better than most that volunteering is an excellent way for a young person to spend their free time – especially over long stretches like summer vacation. Volunteering can be an opportunity to learn transferrable skills, connect with your community, meet new friends, and truly make a difference.
Isabel often volunteers with the New Hampshire Food Bank, primarily Saturday mornings at the JFK Mobile Food Pantry, and with a variety of local soup kitchens. Isabel also founded Seeds of Hope, a nonprofit organization that provides vegetable seeds as a sustainable source of nutrition. In the midst of the pandemic, Isabel has found ways to continue providing support to her community by organizing food drives, collecting water for a neighbor whose well went dry, and inspiring her friends, family, and local community to get involved in everything she does.
Isabel received the Outstanding Volunteer Service Award in the Youth/Young Adult category at the 2020 Spirit of NH Awards. Watch her video here, and scroll down to learn more about her story.
Interview with Isabel Povey
What was it about food insecurity that inspired you to get involved at such a young age?
I knew I needed to do something for food insecurity when I visited my local soup kitchen for the first time at age seven. I was so shocked by how many people needed help right there in my own town. It opened my eyes to how lucky I was because anyone can struggle with food insecurity, even our friends, neighbors, or teachers.
How was Seeds of Hope born? Do you have any long-term goals for the organization?
Although I have been working to end hunger through food drives and days of volunteering in soup kitchens since I was seven, I didn’t start Seeds of Hope until I was 13 and I didn’t make it an official non-profit until age 15. I decided to expand because food insecurity impacts billions all over the world and I think it’s time to find a long-term solution to this issue. Currently serving in all 50 states and 8 countries with over 200 volunteers, my goal is to continue to grow the Seeds of Hope network of volunteers and get as many young people involved in the fight against hunger as possible.
How has your perception of the value of volunteering evolved as you’ve grown from a child into young adulthood?
When I was really young, I saw my volunteer work as a hobby. By middle school, I was spending every weekend in the food pantries and at that point I had accepted it as a passion. As soon as I founded Seeds of Hope however, I could really feel that this mission to end hunger is my purpose in life. It has been a beautiful, unexpected journey that has shaped who I am and all that I hope to be, I truly cannot imagine myself without that part of my life!
What is an example of an experience you’ve had while volunteering that really impacted you?
Every year for Thanksgiving, I deliver turkey dinners to households throughout Manchester and I love to bring little toys or stuffed animals to give to the kids. A few years ago, I gave one little girl a teddy bear and she asked me to stay a few minutes to sing and dance to Christmas music with her. This summer, I saw her in line at an outdoor food pantry I was working at and not only did she remember me right away, but she was carrying the teddy bear I gave her and made sure to come show me! The relationships I have been able to build and maintain with the people I serve mean the world to me and I was so touched by how much one small act of kindness can mean to someone.
What had it been like to address food insecurity as a volunteer during the COVID-19 pandemic?
[The pandemic] has honestly been the busiest time of my life! Because of the way that food insecurity rates skyrocketed with the pandemic, it was really important to me to make sure that I could still be there for those in need, no matter how difficult it got. When things were at the peak back in 2020, I found ways to connect my volunteers remotely through the virtual Povey Power 5k. With nearly 200 participants, we provided meals to 10,000 NH families all from the safety of our own homes. I really focused on making the most of the extra time caused by the shut down and using every second of it to adapt and respond the problems so many were left to face.
What is some advice you could give to people who want to start volunteering but don’t know where to start?
It’s okay to smart small, as long as you start somewhere! Everyone has something to give. You don’t need to organize a huge fundraiser or start a non-profit to make a difference because giving back means so much more than raising money, you can make a difference as simply as holding the door for someone. Sharing a meal, a smile, an hour, or donating your allowance to a food pantry… it all helps. Seeds of hope is all about that message, because it only takes one tiny Seed of Hope to grow the garden that will feed a village.
What’s the most important trait a volunteer in the food insecurity realm should have?
Resilience is so important, especially when dealing with an issue as large as food insecurity. As a young volunteer and the founder of an international non-profit organization, I have been told countless times that ending world hunger is impossible. When you care so deeply about something, it can be discouraging to see numbers like the ones projecting the increase in food insecurity following the pandemic. I always try to remind myself that all I can do is my very best and doing something will always beat doing nothing.
Where do you see your volunteer projects making the biggest difference?
If I had to choose just one way I could make an impact, I would hope that it would be by inspiring other young people to fight for the tomorrow that they believe in. It is up to us to create the world we want to live in and I believe in our power wholeheartedly. As soon as we are able to recognize that our age doesn’t limit our capability to cause change, I know we will do incredible things and I cannot wait to see what those things will be.
To learn more about Isabel’s various initiatives, including Seeds of Hope, please visit: https://isabelpovey.com/
More information about the New Hampshire Food Bank can be found at: https://nhfoodbank.org/