HISD sophomore combats food insecurity with nonprofit food delivery service

Layla Lee, a sophomore at Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy, is only fifteen years old, but she is already on a mission to change the world around her for the better.

Lee founded and runs a nonprofit organization called Community Cuisine, a project devised to combat food insecurity in her community. Inspired by a school visit from the Pangea Network, an organization devoted to empowering women and youth, Lee applied for their Young Women’s Leadership Challenge (YWLC), a program that encourages young people to start their own community service projects.

Participating in YWLC as a freshman gave Lee the opportunity to work alongside older students, largely juniors and seniors, and derive motivation from their goals and their drive.  

“You have to be motivated and intentional with your project, because it’s really easy to give up and let school or work get in the way,” Lee said. “Asking for help [is important]. All of my family ended up doing something with the project.”

Lee became aware of the opportunity to help families in need through conversations with her father, Clifford Lee, who teaches Art of Thinking at Hartsfield Elementary School. Mr. Lee shared with his daughter his experiences with families facing food insecurity in Houston and told her about children he and his colleagues knew of being raised by grandparents or single parents who could benefit from some extra help. The entrepreneurial Lee immediately saw a niche that she could fill.

Lee, who has a passion for cooking in her free time, earned her food handler’s license and, utilizing the resources and knowledge she gained from the YWLC, set to work creating menus with her mother and enlisting her father to help her deliver hot, home-cooked meals to families in need. Lee bought supplies using about $700 from grassroots fundraising and prepared dozens of portions of spaghetti and meatballs, ramen with chicken and vegetables, meatloaf, tacos, chocolate chip cookies and more.

“The most valuable thing is to be disciplined enough to do it and you’ll see results at some point, even if it takes a long time,” said Lee. “We found a single dad who has three daughters, and he was particularly thankful, thanking us over and over again, and that was such a rewarding experience for me, knowing that something I was doing was helping someone out.”

Community Cuisine was active from October of 2023 to March of this year, and Lee hopes to continue and expand the program by reaching out to other schools and delivering much-needed meals to even more HISD families.

Lee has plenty of time to decide what she wants to do after graduation, but at this point, she is considering incorporating what she’s learned with Community Cuisine into her future career.

To watch Community Cuisine grow, follow them on Instagram at @communitycuisinehtx.