By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

Four eighth-grade students from New Song Academy recently won big at the Philanthropy Tank Finals Event in Pikesville, Md.

Aniya Ponton, Samahj Chestnut, Ryeona Watson and Logan Reynolds received $13,000 for their business pitch, an initiative to improve access to healthy food choices, called Bmore Fresh. 

The social enterprise will use a bus to deliver fresh produce to Baltimore communities that live in food deserts, or areas lacking in access to affordable, healthy foods. 

“I was so happy because we put a lot of work into it,” said Watson.  “It was a lot , but it was fun when it happened. I had a lot of fun at Philanthropy Tank.” 

The teenagers all live nearby New Song Academy in the Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park neighborhood in West Baltimore. In this area, 59.4 percent of the land area is considered a food desert, according to a Baltimore City Neighborhood Health Profile.

“We all came up with because we all had a way to relate. We all had a problem with the food choices. There’s not a lot of healthy food spots around here,” said Watson, 13. 

She added that most stores in the area only sold junk food, chips and other unhealthy items. 

The young girls decided that participating in Philanthropy Tank could not only better their communities but also prepare them for success in entrepreneurship. The program seeks to empower the next generation of “CHANGEmakers” by investing in community impact ideas from students in grades eight through 11 in Baltimore, Md. and Palm Beach County, Fla. 

“We felt like [Philanthropy Tank] could be a good opportunity, and it could set us off into something good,” said Chestnut, who is 14 years old. 

The girls began devising the business plan for Bmore Fresh last fall. Along the way, Ricky McCarter, basketball coach at New Song Academy, advised and supported them. 

They said the most challenging part of the process was getting to meetings on time and preparing and memorizing their presentation for the panel of judges. But, McCarter helped them to feel confident and prepared for the finals event. 

“I’m definitely proud of them, especially seeing them go all the way with the project,” said McCarter. 

With their winnings, the students intend to renovate a used Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) bus and install refrigerators and shelving to keep fruits and vegetables fresh while delivering them to communities in need. They are working on forging partnerships with local farms, like Strength to Love II in West Baltimore, to source produce and other healthy foods. 

The girls also plan to purchase a point-of-sale system and an iPad. They said they will use social media to inform residents about when they are coming to their neighborhoods. 

“I visualize us being successful and us having a lot of people come to our bus. We’re going to be crowded,” said Ponton, who is 14 years old. 

Philanthropy Tank has paired the students with a mentor from United Way of Central Maryland to help them get started on bringing their enterprise to fruition. The mentorship will begin in late July, and the girls said they plan to continue meeting over the summer to finalize the concept.

“You can work really well with people that you are friends with,” said Chestnut. “You can do whatever you put your mind to if you [believe] you can.” 

Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.