Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Save A Bottle, Save A Life

We speak to 19-year-old Jordan Elist, who has found a way to help both the environment, and the hungry, one bottle at a time

By: Caitlin Marceau

Published: May 27th, 2014 in Health » World

Save A Bottle, Save A Life

Jordan Elist, 19, never thought (but always hoped) that his organization Save A Bottle, Save A Life would turn into the powerhouse it is today. The nonprofit organization, which collects money raised from the cash return on bottles and cans which are recycled and then invests the money in providing food for those without, has raised over $30,000 from a whooping 450,000 bottles and cans collected.

Elist believes it was a combination of his upbringing, and community service required by his school, that helped to shape his simple idea into a charitable powerhouse.

“My Jewish religion and my parents both played tremendous importance on community service and giving back to the community,” he tells Shalom Life in an exclusive interview. “Fortunately my school had a community service requirement so I was actively encouraged to go out there into the community and make a difference. And as part of that community service I devoted my time to food banks. Often times I’d see that they were running low on funds and they didn’t have enough food to give out to their clientele at the end of the day. And I knew that I wanted to make a difference by giving food to those foodbanks but I simply didn’t know how. I didn’t have money to donate to them. But I realized that if I had the support of an entire community, I would be able to make a difference.”

Elist began by ordering canvas bags online and passing them out to his family and friends. “The day they arrived in the mail, I remember, almost 6 years ago, I took 20 of them with me and I just went knocking on doors and I set out goals for myself saying I wouldn’t stop knocking for that day until I passed out every bag.”

Although the model for the nonprofit organization would be proven to work, people had a difficult time seeing Elist’s international vision. “Many of them were hesitant to take a bag at first because they thought it would be too much of a hassle to collect bottles and cans in their homes and give me a call when that bag was full. They thought that this organization wouldn’t get anywhere collecting 5 or 10 cents. Like, the best that would happen would be that I would be able to donate a couple of cans of food every month.”

However once people began to realize the potential of Elist’s plan, members of his community began participating in his recycling program.

By the second year of Save A Bottle, Save a Life, Elist had begun to form partnerships with local businesses, including a Starbucks location in Beverly Hills. Much like the resistance and skepticism he faced when approaching homes within the community, Elist faced doubt and apprehension when dealing with these businesses. They’re sentiments he’s still faced with today, but continues to remain optimistic in spite of them.

“I think building more partnerships with stores that currently waste a lot of food, throwing it away simply because it goes unsold, is something that I would love to see. Based on my work with Starbucks, the only barrier is that a lot of stores thin it’s against the law because if a food bank client gets sick from the food, they’ll be liable. But I think it’s just showing them the facts that that’s not true. President Clinton passed a law saying that they would not be liable for any damage so I think just informing these establishments and having volunteers who are willing to go ahead and pick up these pastries every night is a barrier to the success of that aspect of Save A Bottle, Save A Life.”

Currently the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam award winner, who is planning on using the $36,000 prize money to expand and grow his organization, is hoping to partner with another California nonprofit organization, Food Forward, that collects unsold or lightly damaged produce and donates it to food banks and those in need.

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