HIGHLAND PARK – You don’t have to drive a car to donate to Namrita Narula’s “Feed The Meters, Feed The Hungry” program. Anyone may deposit spare change in decorative fund-raising meters to help those in need. The project was launched on Nov. 21 after the season’s first snow, with a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of Port Clinton Square. In attendance were Mayor Nancy Rotering, local artist Heather Lowery and Namrita’s close friends and family.
Before the unique design was unveiled, the Highland Park High School sophomore thanked her design team and the City Council. Mayor Rotering also gave high praise to Namrita.
“Thank you for being an advocate, for showing that you have a voice, and making sure that we take care of everybody in the community,” said Mayor Rotering. “I so appreciate your initiative, the fact that you’ve done this, and I look forward to seeing more of what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I’m very proud of you.”
Namrita worked with Lowery on the unique design. “Heather has been so amazing. I knew that I wanted these meters to be eye-catching and different to attract people walking by, and she came up with a brilliant and creative design of having the meter in Port Clinton Square look like a giant carrot,” said Namrita. “She executed it to perfection.”
Namrita described how a visit to South Beach Miami in August ignited an idea to help families in Highland Park. While she was walking down the street, she noticed a bright yellow parking meter, and read that all of the collected change was going to support the homeless in South Beach.
“I was inspired to bring this unique and innovative idea back home to Highland Park,” she said. “I wanted to use the meter idea to address a more prominent issue here: food insecurity. Addressing food insecurity in Moraine Township is part of Seeds of Knowledge’s mission.
Namrita founded the community service project “Seeds of Knowledge” last March. Over the summer she harvested and donated 93 pounds of fresh produce from “Seeds of Knowledge’s” plot at the Moraine Township Food Pantry garden, and her goal is to continue supporting the township throughout the year. “All of the change collected from the meters will be used to purchase fresh produce for the food pantry,” said Namrita.
After Namrita presented her “Feed The Meters, Feed Your Neighbors” idea to the City Council, she was introduced to Ramesh Kanapareddy, director of public works. “He and Tony Ferrari, facility technician located two meters for the project, worked with me to choose optimum locations with high foot traffic, and helped me work out other installation glitches over these past couple of months,” explained Namrita.
She continued, “I then started working with the local artists to finalize the designs that would best reflect the mission of ‘Feed The Meters, Feed Your Neighbors.’ We had to do research and visit hardware stores to find out what type of paint, primer, and sealer would work best on metal and hold up well in the extreme climate we face in Chicagoland. It has definitely been a learning experience.”
Local artist Scott Okin designed the second meter, while another local artist, Marilee Cole, and Namrita executed the design. “The second meter carries the same message, but it looks quite different,” said Namrita. “It is light green and has colorful fruits and vegetables painted all over it. I really appreciate all of the time and effort that the artists put in to help me make my vision come to life.” The second meter will be installed next week near Michael’s Hot Dogs, 1879 Second Street.
During Thanksgiving, Moraine Township Food Pantry receives a lot of support from community members and local businesses. “I am working with Anne Bassi, supervisor, and I am looking at new ways to help them reach their clients in the coming year,” said Namrita.
“Through Seeds of Knowledge, I have learned that any idea you have can become a reality,” reflected Namrita. “I think it’s really important for kids my age to understand that with passion and hard work, they can accomplish any goals that they set forth. There will always be obstacles along the way. It is important to be persistent and flexible and not give up. When you start a project, you won’t have all the answers, but you will always learn along the way.”
Namrita spromises to leave more room on her plate to continue her quest to help others