How did your organization get started?
Jackson: When I was really little, I helped my church pack bags of food for kids and I loved it. When I was 7, I heard about two incredible middle school girls who started a nonprofit to help homeless people. I thought, “I can do that” and decided to start my own nonprofit to help hungry kids. I called it I Heart Hungry Kids because even though I don’t know them, I love them with my heart and want them to have a better life. The Lowcountry Food Bank has a program that gives kids who get free lunch during the week a bag of food for the weekend, but they only wanted volunteers 14 and older. I believe that kids have a lot to contribute, so I talked with the Food Bank CEO and she agreed to let us come as a test. My mom helped me write a grant, and I designed a logo and put it on a T-shirt to raise money. We had our first I Heart Hungry Kids packing party in April 2013. It started off small, with my awesome brothers, Gabe and Riley, and some of our friends, and it just kept growing! The Lowcountry Food Bank is the best partner. Since we started four years ago, over 4,000 kid volunteers have packed more than 40,000 bags of food, which means over 155,000 meals for local kids in need. I’m not going to stop until every kid is fed!
How do you serve the lowcountry?
Jackson: Every kid gets hungry, but not every kid gets fed. I’m always hungry, but I’m lucky because I know that I have plenty to eat. But not every kid is so lucky. Did you know that 1 in 4 kids go hungry in our community? That’s over 16,000 kids in Charleston alone! Hunger affects a kid’s life a lot. When someone is starving all the time, they are probably not going to get good grades or get a good job and might struggle to feed their own families someday. Hungry kids need a “food hug,” which is love and food combined into one. Feeding hungry kids solves one problem before it turns into bigger problems.
What volunteer opportunities do you have for the public?
Jackson: Every month during the school year, 180 kids ages 2 to 18 get together to pack 2,500 bags of food. It’s like trick-or-treating as you walk down the line and fill up your bag. We also make cards so they get a note from someone who cares. My DJ dad plays great music, and we have snacks from MUSC/Sodexo, and it feels like a fun party. It’s amazing to think that the bag you pack with your own hands will be opened by a kid who desperately needs it. So your hard work is really worth it. If you know a kid who wants to help or a company that wants to sponsor a line, we start back up in September. Go to our website at IHeartHungryKids.org or our Facebook page at I Heart Hungry Kids to learn more and to register. It’s open to all kids who want to change the world!
How has your organization grown over the past four years?
Jackson: I don’t think most kids even know about fierce hunger because they haven’t experienced it. When I tell kids about how bad the problem really is, they listen because it’s another kid talking to them instead of a grown-up, and they immediately want to be part of the solution. Then those kids tell more kids, and it starts an awesome chain reaction. Thousands of kids’ lives were changed when they received our food, but I think the lives of all our kid volunteers were changed, too. It’s a really direct way to change the life of someone your own age, and it makes you feel really, really happy. I hope that these kids keep volunteering for the rest of their lives. I have learned that the power of one person is not everything, but it is something. Sometimes, you have to stand up for what you think is the right thing to do and then get others to stand up, too. It takes everyone working together with our hands and our hearts to accomplish truly great things. Kids helping kids, that’s how we change the world!
Jennifer Iamele Savage is a transitional life coach and a secondary Montessori educator. Her latest project, the Mindfull Mamas Project, aims to coach women who are struggling with the identity of motherhood and help them uncover their creative voice so they can step into their purpose and rediscover who they are. Connect with her at InspirationAndBliss.com.