18-Year-Old Starts Nonprofit that Feeds 7,500

Hardworking teen Clelia Poujade founded Chicago charity alongside academic endeavors.

Clelia Poujade may be a teenager, but she has a list of accomplishments that people twice her age would be proud of. Since 2021, she has been running Hands Together to Feed Chicago, a community project that gives out food to those in need, including refugees and the homeless. 

The venture has now distributed meals to more than 7,500 people across Chicago and Illinois, in addition to establishing partnerships with other local nonprofits and saving more than 200 pounds worth of food waste.

A mission to feed Chicago

Clelia, a senior at Walter Payton College Prep, was inspired to create Hands Together to Feed Chicago by her lifelong love for cooking. As a first-generation immigrant, she credits her love of cooking to her French roots, and had the chance to nurture this passion further by training under a Michelin-starred French chef in Paris over summer vacations.

18-Year-Old Starts Nonprofit that Feeds 7,500

Photo Credit: Clelia Poujade

Combining these skills with a passion for social change, she started her own nonprofit. 

“I learned about how prevalent food insecurity was in Chicago where I live and decided to use my love of cooking to help feed others,” says Clelia.

Hands Together to Feed Chicago operates on a mobile basis, allowing them to cook and distribute meals to as many people as possible throughout the city. The group works with six other local organizations, serving food at each of their events. 

This includes cooking monthly meals for more than 80 people at Care for Friends and baking 80 cupcakes for Cornerstone Community Outreach for a “monthly birthday party” (an idea Clelia came up with and brought into fruition herself).

The student trained a team of permanent volunteers and coordinated activities like picking up surplus food, food preparation, and recipe planning. This was invaluable for developing her leadership abilities and teamwork skills at a young age, which she hopes to put to good use in the future.

Juggling charitable ventures with academia

Despite the time spent feeding Chicago, Clelia hasn’t neglected academics. The teenager is a straight-A student, with A+ grades in AP Physics, Statistics, Computer Science, and English Literature in her Senior year. 

18-Year-Old Starts Nonprofit that Feeds 7,500

Photo Credit: Clelia Poujade

She also has an internship with NUGoKidney SciHigh Scholars at Northwestern University under her belt, and completed the Chemistry Summer Scholars Program at Illinois Institute of Technology and a MedStem Explorers internship at Rush Hospital.

Given her knack for charitable ventures, it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that Clelia has previously dipped her toes into the world of entrepreneurship. As early as Grade 8, inspired by her own cat Winston’s Instagram journey, she started a venture called CatRelations to connect cat brands and influencers together, followed by a web-based application called Cardcrisp. More recently, she has been running an Etsy shop (“SeleneDesignArts”) that has earned profits of $30,000 to date and was selected for Etsy Creators Co. 

Hopes for the future

As with all students her age, Clelia is starting to think about her future plans. She would love to continue volunteering and studying entrepreneurship combined with Bioengineering or Chemistry.

This could mean leaving the Chicago area. Yet whatever happens, Clelia plans to train volunteers locally and to share her network with other organizations, like Volunteering Untapped Chicago, to ensure the work she’s done so far can continue to have a positive impact.

“I love cooking for others and sharing it with my community in this way and I intend to continue doing similar work — wherever I find myself for college,” says Clelia.

For more information about Clelia and her nonprofit, visit her website https://www.handstogethertofeedchicago.com/ accounts on TikTok (@handstogethertofeed) and Instagram (@handstogethertofeedchicago).

Published by: Nelly Chavez