How This Millennial Is Feeding Puerto Rico And Saving The World
So grateful to Forbes for sharing how I found my passion - and how I plan to continue following that passion in my fight for a more just, safe, and sustainable world for all! Read on...
by Wendy Sachs
She was shot in the back with a grenade launcher at Standing Rock. She’s walked the runways at New York Fashion Week. She ran for Congress in Northern California at 24 years old. And for the last five months, Erin Schrode, now 26, has been stationed in San Juan, in charge of distributing more than three million meals to the people of Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September.
It was José Andrés, 48, the famous, Michelin-starred chef and restauranteur, who launched #ChefsForPuertoRico, in the days after Hurricane Maria. Andrés arrived thinking that he would feed thousands and quickly realized that nearly all of Puerto Rico – including the Salvation Army - needed food. He became the island's culinary commander.
The task was of military proportions and with no electricity, no cell service and ravaged roads–the transport of food and supplies hovered on the impossible. That local chefs were pooling resources, creating delivery channels and setting up field kitchens to make enough paella, arroz con pollo and sancocho to feed at its peak, nearly 150,000 each day, was extraordinary. But what’s perhaps equally incredible is that Andrés tapped 26-year-old Schrode as his COO to lead what turned into the largest emergency feeding program ever set up by a group of chefs.
Schrode is not a chef or a marine or even Puerto Rican. She calls herself a citizen activist. But a more accurate title may be preternatural ninja of humanitarian crisis management and modern-day missionary badass. Her DNA seems programmed to do good and give back. Her North Star is simple – to reach the most in need. And for Schrode that could mean helping refugees in Lesbos or marching with Black Lives Matter or taking a rubber bullet in the back to protest an oil pipeline at Standing Rock.
It was another natural disaster, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that first connected Andrés and Schrode. Seeing a human catastrophe unfold in the aftermath of the earthquake, Andrés flew to Haiti to help, and a year later created the World Central Kitchen, a non-profit association of chefs. Schrode, then a freshman at New York University, was also moved to action after the earthquake and took a leave from NYU to spend five months in Haiti running logistics for an acute care field hospital in Port-au-Prince and collecting supplies for Haitian school children.
“People always think I’m a trust fund kid,” Schrode says. “When you follow your passions and make service your life’s work everyone assumes it’s because you have a trust fund behind you and the reality is diametrically opposed in my case.”
There is no doubt that Schrode’s hustle and fearlessness has led her to experience more in her quarter century of life than almost anyone four times her age. There was the conference with Kofi Annan and Desmond Tutu. There was running for Congress as the youngest congressional candidate in 2016. There was being recognized on the main stage at the Democratic National Convention. And, of course, that long, depressing November night when Schrode helped moderate all-night presidential election coverage for ABC News – as the “Millennial voice.”
Activism is not new for Schrode. She’s been active since eighth grade, when she and her mom launched the non-profit, Teens Turning Green, in Marin County, California.
"I am a hippie child,” Schrode says with a laugh. “Dessert in my family was cherry tomatoes.”
Inspired by her mother, Judi Shils’s activism to tackle the shocking cancer rates in Marin County, Schrode also looked at the lifestyle choices people were making - albeit her lifestyle, at the time, of a middle schooler. She was already eating organic food – Twinkies might as well have been heroin in her house. But Schrode took note of the ingredients in her Maybelline mascara and immediately found a call to action. She was testifying before the California legislature before she was even old enough to vote.
“If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have taken on a billion-dollar beauty industry,” Schrode says. “But I wasn’t afraid to tell people that you don’t have to choose between beauty and health, you can have style and sustainability.”
Schrode quickly found herself at the intersection of what she calls “green and teen” and what was once considered a crunchy culture of hemp and Birkenstock and Berkeley, was now going mainstream. By 2007, a cultural shift was underway and Seventeen Magazine and Teen Vogue started calling. She didn’t know what a Millennial was but she suddenly became its social impact voice. The New York Times asked her to speak. Companies like Unilever, Burt’s Bees and Coca-Cola wanted her to consult.
Today Schrode, with her mom as executive director, still lead the non-profit Turning Green – they dropped the “teen” after Schrode graduated from college. The motto has always been “dream and do” and they take Turning Green on a college road tour that brings together all of the touch points from food service to landscaping to social entrepreneurship and student government with sustainability.
“The greatest compliment from people is that you are exactly what I thought you were,”Schrode says. “I live these values and walk the walk and honestly believe that there is a better way to walk through our days and lead society and drive corporations that benefits us all.”
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