This guest blog was written by Ellen Gustafson, (left) Executive Director and Co-Founder of the FEED Foundation.
In 2006, I was working as a Communications Officer for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). It was a job I really wanted because I felt (and still feel) that raising awareness about child hunger was hugely important. Seeing the numbers of hungry children in the world (over 350 million today) is overwhelming and thinking about how to help feed them seems impossible. At the UN, I met Lauren Bush, an Honorary Spokesperson for WFP, who was chosen to speak to college students across the country about hunger. We both faced the same frustration: what can we do to help?
Lauren came up with a pretty simple, yet genius idea. She designed a burlap and cotton bag, made to look like bags of grain given to schools around the world, and thought it could be sold to raise money for school meals. We think school feeding is the best answer to child hunger, because it provides vital nutrition while drawing kids to a real long-term hunger solution: an education.
When Lauren and I teamed up, we had no intention of starting a social enterprise. We thought that WFP would sell the bags as a fundraising tool but we soon realized, that they were (rightly) more focused on feeding the hungry than marketing a charity product. So, we decided it would be best to start a separate organization to sell bags and then donate the funds back to WFP for school meals. We looked into all the options and realized that since our primary business operation would be to sell products, we would start a regular, tax-paying company and not a tax-exempt non-profit.
Fashion that Feeds the Hungry
In April 2007, FEED Projects, LLC was created in an apartment in NYC. The FEED 1 bag, our first product, started to sell on Amazon.com and it did very well! The price of each FEED 1 bag includes a $20 donation to FEED one child in school for one year. Then, we pay a factory for the organic cotton and burlap bag's production and for auditing, shipping, customs, tags and warehousing and then our office (which is still only an apartment) and our team of 5 people. The $20 donation per bag is more than all of the other costs COMBINED, since we keep all other costs, aside from the donation, as low as possible.
Now, we have a range of FEED products, and every product has a specific donation attached to the sale of the item. Rather than donating a "percentage of the profits or proceeds", the donation is built into the cost of the product - so it is an exact and tangible amount of money for each product. It is important to note that we make our products out of eco-friendly fabric (including organic cotton, natural burlap, recycled plastic-based nylon) and in fair labor factories that are audited by partner organizations like Verite.org.
FEED produces products in four main facilities around the world. We use a high-end luggage and handbag factory in China for some of our bags, which we are very happy with, despite lots of negative perceptions of Chinese factories. We have visited the factory ourselves, along with professional labor auditors, and check up on labor practices regularly. We know people are quick to question foreign manufacturing, and we hope our customers question the origins of all products they buy!
We are also VERY proud of our factory and beading co-op in Nakuru, Kenya. In that facility all of the FEED Kenya bags are produced and hand-beaded by a group of women as well as graduates of the local school for the deaf. We visited and tried (unsuccessfully) to learn the beading techniques, I think we would need lots more practice. In Guatemala, we have worked with Nest, a nonprofit organization that empowers female artists and artisans around the world. The Guatemala bags will be coming soon to a retailer near you! Lastly, we have a great partnership with Enviro-totes, a manufacturer in New Hampshire that is making the organic cotton FEED Haiti bags. We LOVE producing products in the USA and we are looking forward to a whole line of Made in America bags, which will be awesome!
The products all have different measurable donations, which can be found below or in our online store.The donations are then made by FEED at least twice a year to the UN World Food Programme (or our other partner organizations like Room-to-Read, Millennium Villages, and Industrial Revelation), based on the number of bag sales that we have to-date.
FEED is incredibly proud of the large donations that are associated with each bag. With a small team of 5 people, a low overhead due to still working in an apartment-office and thanks to our great FEED fans and customers, we are able to grow and continue to provide good products that have so far helped provide 55 million meals to FEED the children of the world.
In 2008, we started our own 501(c)(3) non-profit called the FEED Foundation with the vision of a sustainable global food system where all people can access nutritious food. With our non-profit we support three key areas: Food Security, School Feeding and Healthy Food for All. Check out www.theFEEDfoundation.orgfor more info!
FEED 1 bag = 1 child fed in school for 1 year through the UN World Food Programme (WFP)
FEED 2 bag = 2 kids fed in school for 1 year through WFP
FEED/READ 3 bag = 3 local language books through Room to Read + 3 lunch meals through WFP
FEED 100 bag = 100 school meals given to kids in Rwanda
FEED 2 Kenya bag = 2 kids fed in school for 1 year in Kenya
FEED 10 pouch = 10 women supported through WFP's Food for Work Program
FEED 3 and FEED 5 bear = 3 or 5 supplements of nutrient-rich Plumpy'Nut given to kids under 5 years old
FEED Health backpack = one identical FEED Health backpack to be used by Community Health Works in Africa through the Millennium Villages
FEED 50 Haiti bag = 50 school meals to kids in Haiti through WFP