It was a story about broccoli soup that really brought home to Shirley Zhu the value of the work she was doing. She and her twin sister Annie, who are 18, were delivering boxes of food to people struggling to get affordable, nutritious food in their home city of Houston, Texas. One woman, who Shirley was visiting for the second time, was excited to tell her that she had made broccoli soup for her and her young daughter with the previous food package.
"It was heartening to see that even giving people a bag of produce can have an effect and positively impact their lives," says Shirley. It demonstrated the power of fresh food – not just for improving health, but in bringing families closer together by encouraging them to cook and eat together. "When people just have access to convenience store junk food and fast food that's cheap and convenient, I think that it also breeds an emotional toll on families," she says.
Shirley and Annie were 15 years old when in 2017 they began collecting unsold food from grocery stores and bakeries in Houston and distributing it to residents living in "food deserts" – areas which don't have good access to fresh, affordable food. Together with an initial team of 10 classmates at their high school, they set up Fresh Hub. With the help of a smartphone app and automated messaging service, they were able to alert residents when fresh food was available.