FEED Projects, the enterprise co-founded by Ellen Gustafson and Lauren Bush, is debuting its newest endeavor, the FEED Health Backpack. The simple but elegant premise for this backpack is that for every one sold, an identical one filled with medical supplies by Millenium Villages is carried by Community Health Workers to residents of African villages to provide urgently needed health care. The bag, which is available at kennethcole.com and at Kenneth Cole retail stores, is an eco-friendly accessory, being crafted sturdily from 100% recycled nylon, and is supremely functional for both its missions – backpack for schoolkids in America and “doctor’s bag” for the Community Health Workers in Africa.
To celebrate the launch of the FEED Health Backpack, a lively party took place in Santa Monica, with thoughtful green touches evident in every aspect of the planning. Vanity Fair and Planet Green co-hosted the event, which was conceived by Awearness. The setting was the Santa Monica LivingHome, the first residence in the country to receive LEED Platinum status, a designation granted to only the greenest of buildings. The beverages were by Veev, the only carbon-neutral spirits company in the world, and the locally produced, organic fare was provided by Bite Catering Couture. Upbeat music spun by a DJ helped set the convivial mood. And although the question “What are you wearing?” never seems to go out of style, attendees like Radha Mitchell, Ryan Kwanten and Vanessa Lengies kept the focus on the endeavor being celebrated.
I spoke with FEED co-founder Ellen Gustafson about the larger context of the issue of food insecurity. It’s not so much the case that there’s a lack of food overall in the world, but it is not distributed equitably. Political instability obviously plays a role. And environmental degradation, including deforestation and a worsening drought/flood cycle, contributes to loss of soil fertility and agricultural productivity in the areas where it’s needed most. So with the Millenium Villages, the entity that FEED pairs with, a wholistic approach is taken to address all the factors that keep people food insecure and in extreme poverty. For example, food aid is brought in while local residents work to rehabilitate their soils to grow healthy, bountiful crops. If children are able to eat a good meal at school, they are far more likely to continue their education. And the new FEED Health Backpack is filled with micronutrient supplements for children, malaria tests, first aid kit, family planning supplies, a scale for weighing infants and a growth chart to check the infants’ development, among other items.
As the FEED co-founders write in their mission statement, problems as vast as world hunger and extreme poverty can seem so overwhelming as to discourage action to solve them. But there’s a tremendous amount to be said for small steps and incremental efforts. And that, it seems to me, is the crucial key to effecting any kind of change. Even a complex solution can be achieved when it’s broken down into actionable elements. These building blocks of change are more approachable and have a way of adding up, before one knows it, to a substantial amount of good. Hence, the genius of a bag whose purchase enables a one-for-one donation. What could be a more concrete result than a child fed a nutritious meal at school, or health care brought right into the homes of villagers? That’s what the various FEED bags provide.
There’s a long, honorable tradition of philanthropy in America, and the better angels of our nature seemed to be quite present amongst the attendees of the launch party. In the contemporary practice of this philanthropic tradition, the philanthropists come from the many different backgrounds that the marvelous diversity of our society provides, rather than any one social strata. It is truly heartwarming to see these activists leveraging their good fortune to raise awareness and to improve the lives of the less fortunate. With the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy, whose life’s work was championing of the rights of the ordinary citizen, we are reminded of the importance of working for a common good, for we are all interconnected citizens of the world.