Jake Jaskowiak heads into his senior year at North Central College with a newfound purpose. After learning about the Food Recovery Network during his summer internship with Seven Generations Ahead (SGA), Jake plans to start a chapter this fall on the Naperville campus. 

The network recovers food from university cafeterias and donates to food pantries so it doesn’t go to waste, Jake explains. “Food waste is pretty ridiculous in this country, considering how many hungry people we have,” says Jake, whose work at SGA included working on toolkit for a group called Illinois Wasted Food Solutions.

Because his internship gave him a deeper understanding of the magnitude of school food waste, Jake wants to see his campus become part of the solution. He knows that starting the Network chapter will require getting fellow students to understand why food waste is a problem, but it’s a challenge he is willing to tackle.

He has already set up an information session with a representative from the Network. “I’m still in the organizing phrase and trying to get various school groups that are willing to work with me,” he says.

Much as he hopes to impact food waste on his campus, Jake demonstrated during his internship that he has what it takes to effect change—even in a village like Oak Park, where SGA, a nonprofit leader on sustainability initiatives, is based 

It all came down to presenting, you might say, just the facts. Jennifer Nelson, zero waste program manager at SGA, explains.

“Over the summer, the local recycling hauler for Oak Park residents, schools and the Park District of Oak Park informed the Village that they would no longer recycle cartons. Through research and communication, Jake was able to find information from the Carton Council and other national/local organizations about the regional and national market for milk cartons.

“His research helped to connect the hauler to local markets, and the hauler reversed its position and will continue to accept cartons in recycling.”

That was just one of his accomplishments, says Nelson, to whom Jake reported during his eight weeks at SGA. 

In collaboration with SGA staff, Jake helped create multiple resources for the organization’s website that will be used in the toolkit for years to come. He also started researching and writing a section for SGA’s website about the environmental benefits of going zero waste that will help educate about what zero waste is and why it is important on a global scale. 

Nelson says she found Jake to be a pleasure to work with. “He was engaged and interested in learning about all aspects of our work. He asked insightful questions and was able to work well individually or collaboratively with a group.”

Even while Jake is back at North Central immersed in his studies as an environmental studies and Chinese major, SGA continues to rely on the work he did. Information and contacts he collected will be used in an upcoming webinar that will educate Illinois institutions on opportunities for reducing wasted food through source reduction, food donation and composting. 

Now that he’s gained so much insight on waste, Jake is ready to take on his next big assignment, an independent study this fall on the culture of waste, he says. He plans to do a comparison between San Francisco and Chicago, looking at  “factors that make a city good in diverting its waste.”