BY Diana Bowley of the news staff - DOVER-FOXCROFT - A local woman who has extended her hands and opened her heart to hungry people throughout the world hopes to convince others to do the same.Dana Frasz, 19, of Dover-Foxcroft and a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., has organized Empty Bellies, a program in which she and eight college friends salvage leftover food from eateries on a daily basis and donate the items to food pantries in New York City's Bronx area.
"I have been given so much in my life, I now have a responsibility to give back to the world, people, and my neighbors," Frasz said this week during an interview during her school break.
The daughter of two doctors said she had a privileged upbringing and thought little of her wastefulness while growing up. Spending a year abroad after her graduation from Foxcroft Academy in 2001, however, gave the young woman a different view of the world and her role in it.
"I grew up in this town and hadn't seem much of the world," Frasz said, explaining why she spent 31/2 months in Southeast Asia with Youth International, an experimental education program for young people ages 17-24. One of 16 in her group, Frasz lived with families in Thailand, India, Nepal, and the Philippines while working on community service projects such as building steps to a school, teaching children about the environment, and working in a clinic founded by Mother Theresa.
"It was a great opportunity to see the way the large portion of the world lives, which is completely different from how we live here in Dover-Foxcroft and the United States," Frasz said. Because most of her stays were in impoverished regions, she saw people with meager food supplies. "Every last piece of rice or bean was eaten, nothing was wasted," the young woman noted. Even though they had little, however, the people were so generous, she said. "I was changed by that trip because I became so much more aware of what I was using, what I was consuming and what others were consuming," she said.
When she returned home in December 2001, Frasz said she had "culture shock" and found it difficult to adjust to American life. The wastefulness she observed daily bothered her immensely. It was while she was a student at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., that she began to plot a course to help humankind. Frasz talked to the college's food manager and was given permission to watch the kitchen activity one night.
"I was blown away, they were taking entire bins of pasta, whole trays of pizza and putting them down the garbage disposal," she recalled. Upset over the food waste, Frasz stretched the truth and told the kitchen manager that she worked at a food pantry, although she had not yet started Empty Bellies. Frasz said she was allowed to package up pizza, garlic bread, broccoli and other foods and take them with her.
She called a friend, advised him that she had some goods for the homeless, and the pair set out in a freezing cold and dark night for an abandoned subway in Rochester. Although they realized it was risky behavior, the pair descended into the black depths of a tunnel with only a small flashlight to light their way.
"I was scared at first, I was trying to be tough, I felt I had good karma on my side," Frasz said. Once inside the tunnel, Frasz and her friend stumbled over a man and disturbed him from his sleep. The pair quickly explained why they had come and found themselves among friends.
"For the next two hours, we just sat around with these guys," Frasz said. She told them she was scared but they said they wouldn't harm her or her friend.
The homeless men were most thankful for the food and gave her the best seat in the house, a heating pipe that went through the tunnel. Ironically, the tunnel had a view of the Hyatt Hotel in the distance.
Frasz said she returned to the tunnel with food a couple more times before she transferred to Sarah Lawrence College. There, she approached school officials and local eateries with her idea for Empty Bellies. Supportive, the college loaned her the community service vehicle and from 4 to 9 p.m., Frasz or one of her friends makes the daily run to local restaurants to collect the leftover food. The hot food is the last to be picked up before the items, including large trash bags full of bagels, are taken to Part of the Solution, a food shelter in the South Bronx neighborhood that is open all day, seven days a week, serving 300-400 people daily.
"It's my biggest after-school activity," Frasz said. The only drawback of the project has been two $50 parking tickets she received while she was stopped to collect the food. Otherwise, the project has been embraced by all.
'The community has just been great about it," Frasz said. "I had no idea it would turn into something so big." Frasz hopes other people across the country and nation will embrace the project. "It's such a routine now, and it requires so little of you," she said. "This is what's going to make the world a better place," Frasz said.
Lifting a quote from Kahlil Gibran, a favorite author, poet, and philosopher, Frasz said: "You give but little when you give of possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give."