HIGHLAND PARK – When Namrita Narula was a sophomore at Highland Park High School, she was already receiving praise from Mayor Nancy Rotering and working closely with Ramesh Kanapareddy, the city’s director of public works, on her“Feed The Meters, Feed Your Neighbors” initiative.
Namrita created the program in November 2015. It allows anyone to deposit spare change into three refurbished, vegetable-shaped parking meters in downtown Highland Park to help those in need. The change collected from the meters has been used to purchase fresh produce for Namrita’s Seeds of Knowledge community service project.
Namrita founded Seeds of Knowledge in March 2015, and that summer she harvested and donated 93 pounds of fresh produce at the Moraine Township Food Pantry garden.
The following year Seeds of Knowledge hosted the Empty Bowls Fundraiser, where attendees purchased a ceramic bowl made by District 112 elementary school students. The event was held at HPHS on October 20, 2016 to benefit the Moraine Township Food Pantry.
Prior to the benefit, Namrita told DailyNorthShore, “Each empty bowl is meant to remind guests of the many ‘empty bowls’ that exist in the lives of those who experience hunger.”
Namrita is currently succession planning to ensure the continuation of her Seeds of Knowledge initiatives. “The Highland Park Nursery School & Day Care Center now has an outdoor garden and indoor hydroponic garden towers, which enable the students to garden and enjoy fresh produce throughout the year,” said the HPHS senior. “Gardening and nutrition education are now a part of their curriculum.”
Namrita is working to make sure that fresh produce is still regularly purchased and donated to the Moraine Township Food Pantry using the change collected from the meters while she attends the Wharton School of Business at The University of Pennsylvania next fall.
To date, Seeds of Knowledge’s initiatives have raised more than $24,000 in monetary and goods donations, said Namrita.
Last fall HPHS nominated Namrita for national honors in recognition of her volunteer work with Seeds of Knowledge, which resulted in a Certificate of Excellence from The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, and with a President’s Volunteer Service Award.
Namrita explained that the awards are presented annually by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). Certificates of Excellence are granted to the top 10 percent of all Prudential Spirit of Community Award applicants in each state and the District of Columbia. President’s Volunteer Service Awards recognize Americans of all ages who have volunteered significant amounts of their time to serve their communities.
Namrita said she was honored when HPHS Principal Dr. Elizabeth Pérez Robertson presented her with the award.
Namrita is grateful for all of the support she’s received from HPHS and the Highland Park community. “This community is always willing to help young people who want to make a difference, and I have witnessed that when collaborating with local businesses, organizations, City Council, schools, artists, and students,” she said. “Even when my ideas may have seemed a little crazy, like refurbishing old parking meters into five feet tall donation stations, these initiatives were welcomed and brought to fruition as a team.”
Namrita is a 2018 Coca-Cola Scholar and looks forward to attending the Scholars Weekend in Atlanta in April. “I definitely recommend that high school students use their Naviance accounts to look for scholarships,” she said.
She also recommends that students who want to get involved in helping the community find a cause that they are passionate about or try to solve a problem. This includes finding a topic that “drives you” and deciding how to address the issue.
“It’s the simple acts of kindness that lead to movements and affecting social change,” said Namrita. “I have learned that you don’t need all the answers when you start a project (my gardening skills were limited when I founded Seeds of Knowledge), but you shouldn’t be afraid to take a risk and try something new. It’s important to reach out to mentors and ask for help, which is a strength and not a weakness.”
Will she continue to do community service projects at Wharton?
“Community service is an integral part of who I am, and I look forward to continuing to work on service projects in college,” said Namrita. “I hope to bring my ‘Feed The Meters, Feed Your Neighbors’ initiative to the Philadelphia community and work with local food pantries. I am also passionate about ending gender disparities and female empowerment, so I plan to be involved in related organizations on campus.”