In 2009, Elliot Singer participated in the first-ever REALITY Israel Experience for Teach For America Corps Members trip. A partnership between CLSFF, the Samberg Family Foundation, Teach For America and the Center for Leadership Initiatives, REALITY brings corps members to Israel for 10 days of touring, exploring the Israeli educational system, self-reflection and learning.
These days, Elliot can be found cycling the TransAmerica Trail—a 4,262-mile ride from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia—with his college friends David Drabkin and Jonathan Mahler. Together they started Miles for Meals to raise awareness about the domestic hunger epidemic, draw attention to communities in need and donate funds to alleviate hunger throughout America.
Elliot & co. started pedaling in July 2010, and so far they have raised $1,161.69, or 10,455.21 pounds of food and grocery products for men, women and children facing hunger in the USA. Herewith, we ask Elliot to join our conversation.
1) In 18 words or less, tell us why you are cycling across America with your college buddies?
We have been dreaming of completing the historic TransAmerica trail for four years and there is no better time in our life to do so.
2) How did this particular adventure come about? Is there an interesting back story you can share?
David and I have been best friends since college. Through the course of our friendship, we have always enjoyed travel and adventure. Our first major trip was backpacking Israel for a month in the summer of 2006. Sometime during that trip or shortly after, we floated the idea of traveling across America on bicycles the next summer. With internships and jobs there just wasn’t enough time.
Now, we are all at unique but common points in our lives: between jobs, moved out of our apartments and houses, and in need and want of a tremendous life-changing adventure. Jon was a late addition to the group but with a similar situation. In addition to just crossing the country, we wanted to do some humanitarian work in conjunction with the trip. Because we both worked in a cafe throughout our entire Cornell careers and have a particular interest in many issues regarding food, we chose to raise money for Feeding America.
3) How did you guys decide to choose cycling as your means for fighting hunger and why did you choose fighting hunger as your cause? How much money do you hope to raise?
First, besides working in a cafe during college, food is a major passion for all three of us, especially David. For the past two years he has been working in an organic produce warehouse in San Francisco and is considering creating a business that will expand the distribution of healthy, local, organic food to more people. Second, right now in America, hunger has quickly become one of the most pressing needs meeting more and more citizens as the economy continues to decline. The bottom line is that more people need basic staples like food than ever. Feeding America is one of the best-known and reputable charities in the country, besides being a good cause.
Our goal is to raise $5000 (and we believe that this is fairly realistic).
4) Who or what inspires you to get out of bed every day?
First, remembering that this is a trip we WANT to be doing. Second, for the adventure and friendship that we will experience every day. Third, to expand and sharpen our mindsets and perspectives regarding America, domestic hunger, personal growth and goals, and other important life values. Fourth, because we have vowed not to quit. Fifth, to bring more awareness and money to domestic hunger through Feeding America and our website, www.milesformeals.net.
5) Speaking of inspiration, you went on the very first REALITY Israel Experience for Teach For America Corps Members. Can you tell what this experience meant to you and how it inspired you? What was the most memorable part of that experience for you?
REALITY did exactly what it was intended to do: it created a mindset of “leadership” within me. By presenting us with the opportunity to meet leaders of all different kinds—activists, rabbis, politicians, journalists, just to name a few—it gave me the energy to pursue leadership wherever I go.
If I want to raise $5000, I can. If I want to write a book about domestic hunger and raise awareness using whatever tools, I can. If I want to tell everyone about a cause I care about, I can. A leader does whatever he/she feels is necessary to confirm and further what they care about.
All the people I met during the REALITY trip proved that, no matter what they were trying to do. And believe me, some of them were doing some incredible things, like creating a ecumenical, peaceful community in the midst of religious divisions, or trying to bring Teach For America to Israel despite numerous obstacles, or creating art in the midst of rocket attacks in Sderot.
6) What’s next for you?
After the trip I’m going to continue my year off between Teach For America and Tulane Law. I plan on spending at least 5 months in Central and South America trekking. Eventually I’ll be returning to my beloved New Orleans, definitely for school, and perhaps a little early to train for a half-Ironman Triathlon. For now, New Orleans is my home, so after law school I plan on staying in the city for a million different reasons.
Elliot Singer was born in East Setauket, NY, and raised in Pepper Pike, OH. After graduating from Orange High School in 2004, he attended Cornell University and wrote a senior thesis about Russian Jewish immigrant populations in Germany. After falling in love with the city of New Orleans while volunteering there in January 2008, Elliot joined Teach For America where he taught 2nd grade at Einstein Charter School in the 2008-2009 school year and 1st grade at Langston Hughes Academy in 2009-2010.