The FEED Supper season has a way of reminding me of why I started FEED. 30 days of communities coming together to break bread and give meals is such a beautiful reflection of the ethos of what we value as a brand. As we approach World Food Day on October 16th, I look forward to not only celebrating the meals we’ve collectively raised this month for Supper, but also the 95 million meals we’ve given as a community over the past nine years.
95 million meals means 95 million opportunities—it’s a big number with even bigger ripple effects. Thinking about this number, and what it means for children and families around the world, recently made me take a step back in reflection. Today, I’m remembering the moments and milestones over the past nine years that have made our history of giving what it is.
I still get a little emotional when I think back to the official launch of FEED Projects in 2007. Amazon.com placed the very first order—500 FEED 1 Bags—which it sold on a boutique page that our very first website linked to. My dream for FEED, which had begun years before, was finally a reality.
In 2003, as a sophomore at Princeton, I had the incredible opportunity to travel with the UN World Food Programme, as a student ambassador. I knew hunger was a serious global issue, but it was not until I saw children who, just because of where they were born, were suffering from malnutrition. It felt so unfair, and so unnecessary since I also knew that enough food was produced each year to feed everyone on the planet. When I saw the WFP’s school feeding programs in action, I knew I wanted to do all I could do to make sure every child, everywhere, had that free and nutritious school lunch. But how?
In 2005, I came up with the idea for the first FEED Bag. Designed to look like the bags of grain I saw with the WFP, this bag was stamped with a giant 1 to represent the 1 child its purchase would feed for an entire year. We call this bag the FEED 1, and today and it’s still one of our best sellers. This intial design took two years to come into fruition, so you can imagine what that first Amazon order meant to me. It represented 500 kids who were going to get a free school meal every day for a year, which would also incentivize their parents to send them to school. I knew I wanted to make FEED my life’s work, and design even more bags that would multiply this impact.
Fast-forward a year, I was traveling to Rwanda with execs from Whole Foods to see first hand the school feeding program that the sales of the FEED 100 Shopper in their stores that year had supported. It was such a validating partnership, and one that really put FEED on the map. As more people learned about FEED that year, we got a lot of donations from people who wanted to help. Since FEED is a for-profit social business, we launched the FEED Foundation in 2008 as a mechanism to support fundraising outside of the sales of our products.
By 2010, we were ready to scale our impact again. Hunger relief is a solution to a problem that often comes from lack of employment. We launched artisan collections like FEED Guatemala and FEED Kenya to not only give school meals in those regions, but also support the livelihoods of local artisans. It was incredible to travel to Nakuru, Kenya with our small team at the time to see the FEED Kenya Bag come to life. Each one takes days two days to hand-bead, and to this day is still my favorite bag. We also took a giving trip to Guatemala in 2011 to visit our artisans and see the micronutrient program the sale of those bags supported in action.
The next few years came with incredible growth for FEED, thanks to some amazing partnerships. In 2012, we partnered with Karlie Kloss and Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar for Karlie’s Kookies (now Klossies), which supported school feeding. While school feeding was at the heart of why FEED existed, we knew hunger was a huge problem in our own country as well. In 2013, Target unveiled the FEED USA Collection, which ended up raising 12 million meals. I traveled with Target on a road-trip across the country to see the food banks our partnership was supporting, and understand the realities of hunger in my own backyard. While that collection was always meant to run for a limited time, local hunger relief continues to be a bedrock of our giving and has since been supported by our partnerships with west elm and, more recently, Shinola.
2014 is a year I will always remember in FEED’s history of giving. Our entire team took a giving trip to Rwanda and Kenya, to connect with the families and communities our products support and to meet the artisans who crafted our Kenya and Heritage collections. We also launched FEED Supper that September and celebrated our holiday collection with friends like Anne Hathaway and Chrissy Teigen in the Come Together campaign. Even with all of that, I still had a feeling that the best was yet to come for FEED, and 2015 and 2016 proved that to be true.
It’s been said that a journey of 10,000 steps begins with one. As I look back at the history of FEED and our giving to date, I’m so thankful that I took that first step. I would have never imagined where it would lead, and I am truly grateful to the partners and customers (you!) who have made 95 million meals possible.
We’re just getting started.