This Foundation Is Mobilizing Middle School Students to Save Tigers

Palm oil is a hot-button issue among politicians these days, and now middle schoolers in Philadelphia are getting involved in the debate. For the third year in a row, the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation is teaming up with the Philadelphia Zoo to host a contest that aims to transform middle school students into wildlife activists. This year's topic: how palm oil plantations are killing endangered tigers. (Read Albert M. Greenfield Foundation: Philadelphia Grants).

Students at the city's Alternative Middle Years (A.M.Y) at James Martin School recently created a YouTube video to educate consumers about the effects of palm oil harvesting on wildlife. In the video, they target popular companies, like General Mills, that use palm oil in their products. “We love the yummy foods from General Mills like Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Häagen-Dazs ice cream,” their petition states. “Unfortunately these products contain palm oil which come from palm trees located in the rain forest. Actions like this can hurt animals like tigers.”

This year marks the Greenfield Foundation's third UNLESS Contest for grades K-12. In the past two years, over 5,400 students from 113 schools in the Delaware Valley have competed in the contest, which aims to create awareness, inspire solutions, and motivate actions that improve the future of wildlife.

But why palm oil? Why tigers?

Palm oil is the most widely produced vegetable oil, contained in about half of our packaged foods, shampoos, and cleaning products. The expansion of palm oil plantations in Sumatra has resulted in fierce habitat destruction for Indonesian tigers. Less than 400 of these tigers are surviving today.

Although the foundation does not have an environmental grantmaking program per se, it maintains a broad purpose and is a long-time supporter of the local zoo's programs. The Greenfield Foundation reviews grant proposals on a rolling basis for innovative programs that benefit the city of Philadelphia and the surrounding area. 

“Today’s youth have an unparalleled ability to inspire and effect positive change for critically endangered tigers. The Zoo believes that doing leads to caring, and through the UNLESS Contest, we are encouraging future generations to become passionate about a global cause that threatens the existence of wildlife and giving them an opportunity to be a part of the solution,” says Kristen Waldron, Director of Conservation Education and Integration.

The top prize is $1,250, with a second prize of $750, and a third prize of $250. Final contest submissions are due in March and the UNLESS awards ceremony takes place in May. If you're interested in getting your Philadelphia students involved in next year's contest, take a look at these students' video submission for ideas.