Derek hasn’t had lunch all year
It was December last year; the more biting cold of Minnesota was starting to develop. Susan was working as an educational support assistant at an elementary and pre-school. It seemed like a normal day, and Susan was getting ready to head home. But after pre-school, the head teacher of the class approached Susan with some concerning news. “Derek* hasn’t had lunch the whole school year,” she said.
Stunned, Susan did not miss a beat. “I’ll make him a lunch until you can get him the right resources,” Susan said.
Despite being able to respond right away with action, Derek’s hunger moved Susan, and she found herself thinking about him and his hunger for hours, days, and weeks after. A 4-year-old should never go without a meal, and that alone is a deep concern.
But there was something else, too. With the news about Derek, Susan was caught off guard, reminded of experiences she hadn’t thought much about in a while. “Right then and there,” Susan said, “everything just came flooding back to me.”
“Most people brought a cold lunch,” Susan said of her memories of school. “But I couldn’t bring a cold lunch. I got a free lunch.” It was common even just several years ago for school lunch programs to give meal tickets to school children—one color for a paid lunch, and another color for a free and reduced lunch. This unnecessary distinction can draw negative attention to kids, at times leading them to feel shame among their peers.
Susan grew up in a single-parent household. She remembers going to the grocery store with her mom and brother, and what is a simple trip for many of us was a strain on her family when she was a kid.
“I always made myself scarce when she went to pay,” Susan said. Because her mother had to use SNAP (then called food stamps) when buying food for her children, Susan said she felt embarrassed. “Looking back,” Susan said, “my mom always went to the same checkout lady. It’s embarrassing. Now it’s a card system [EBT], so it’s less obvious. But back then it was almost like paying with monopoly money.”
It was time to move with purpose.
In 2015, Susan had developed a new business idea. She had collected over the years a list of inspiring and encouraging messages—different words than she had seen broadcasted before. Inspired by these words of wisdom, Susan made a 2016 New Year’s resolution to start a clothing line incorporating these messages.
But December had arrived and Susan hadn’t really made progress on this resolution.
One day, as Susan was grappling with Derek’s story and her own story, something clicked.
“I hadn’t created an apparel line because it didn’t have a purpose,” Susan said. “There wasn’t a Why behind it. The pieces were there, just not together.”
Then came the forming of Hands & Feet, an apparel company Susan started with her husband Eric, that donates 50 percent of all profits to local, nonprofit organizations. The cause taking the lead now, of course, is childhood hunger.
“We knew we didn’t have to re-create the wheel here. We asked ourselves, ‘who is already doing great work in child hunger?’ We knew we could work with Second Harvest Heartland.”
Susan and Eric are excited to announce they have launched this month. “If [Derek] hadn’t been in my class, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Susan said.
Second Harvest Heartland is excited to be a benefitting partner of Hands & Feet. A variety of shirts are now on sale. Get yours today and learn more about the work Second Harvest Heartland is doing to end child hunger.
*A representative name has been used.