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Kroger

Nicki Amos knew that finding dinner was going to be a stretch.

It was evening in suburban Phoenix, and Amos, a single mother with two young girls, was going through a rough patch. She had a job as a cashier, but it barely covered her expenses. Rent was a monthly burden. So were her water bill, her electric bill … even paying for gas.

With money so tight, she even took a risk and drove her car without reregistering it. “I was very strategic in my driving to make sure I didn’t end up in front of an officer,” she says.


Amos and her family, present day. Photo provided by Nicki Amos.

But there was one other serious challenge: Amos had to figure out how she was going to feed both her daughters and herself.

She was under a lot of pressure. Something had to give.

So that night, after making sure she had dinner for her kids, she searched for an affordable meal for herself. What she found was meager, but for the time being, it worked. Amos and a friend, also a divorcee, drove to a restaurant with a bar, where they found a happy hour with complimentary snacks. They nibbled on the finger food. And then Amos went home.  

It was a desperate attempt at a meal, but this wasn’t the worst night she’d had.

On other nights, Amos had to skip meals entirely in order to make ends meet.

After all, she says, her first priority was always her children’s well-being.

Amos' daughters. Photo provided by Nicki Amos.

“As long as the kids were OK, I was OK,” she continues.

She made sure they had a nutritious dinner — even if that meant preparing what she affectionately called “potato chip casserole,” a mishmash of the remaining foods in her cupboard and fridge.

“There was probably a vegetable of some sort and a protein mixed in,” she says. “It was whatever we had and probably a can of cream of mushroom soup.”

But she couldn’t afford to treat herself with the same care. She’d skip a meal here, skip a meal there. She was just doing what she had to do, she reasoned.

And though she bore through her struggles and eventually secured a better job as a district manager of Fry’s, the grocery retailer, Amos had faced a stark reality.

Like millions of other Americans, she was food insecure.

[rebelmouse-image 19532460 dam="1" original_size="5184x3456" caption="Photo by Bonnie Kittle/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Bonnie Kittle/Unsplash.

It’s an issue that inspired her to become an activist herself. She began volunteering at the St. Mary’s Food Bank, a nonprofit organization, and later even joined their board of directors. All the while, she spoke out about the broader issue of food insecurity — and the harmful misconceptions about hunger in America.

“It’s not only homeless people who face food insecurity,” she says. “It could be one of your children’s friends. It could be someone you go to church with. And you wouldn’t know it.”

This isn’t just one person’s speculation about a social issue. According to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, some 41 million Americans were food insecure in 2016. That’s about 12% of U.S. households that, at some point throughout the year, struggled to obtain enough food.

And millions of food-insecure Americans actually belong to ordinary households. Think: two parents, two kids, a house, and a steady income.

For these families, food is often part of an impossible calculus.

Should they buy fresh milk or should the money go toward a gallon of gas? Enough meat for the whole family or medicine for one person?

“Invariably the casualty is food,” says Diana Aviv, the CEO of Feeding America, a national nonprofit that runs food banks across the U.S.

Photo via Feeding America

Aviv says that many large-scale issues force people to make these tough choices. For one, underemployment is widespread: Too many people work part-time and can’t find full-time work.

Many Americans also don’t have a lot in savings. One survey, for instance, found that 57% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings accounts. With so little reserves, it isn’t hard to imagine how an unexpected ER visit could force a family to cut back their eating.

Aviv says that public policy can hurt people too. Certain federal programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, help families pay for the cost of food. But in many cases, if you make even just a little too much money from your job, you don’t qualify for the assistance.

“Those families in some respects are even worse off,” she explains.

Photo via Feeding America

But if so many people are struggling, why don’t we hear about it more? The answer is simple: People are embarrassed to admit they can’t pay for food.

Over the last year, Aviv traveled the country doing in-depth interviews of people facing hunger. And she found that shame often keeps people from sharing their stories.

“People were incredibly embarrassed about their situation,” she says. “Children in school are not going to put up their hands in classes and say, ‘I’m hungry, please give me food.’”

They’ll be isolated, and there’s a fear that they’ll be teased by their classmates. And so a lot of food insecurity is hidden.”

But the tide does appear to be turning.

The issue has begun to garner more media attention, and on the national level, many companies and organizations are mobilizing to take action.

One campaign called Zero Hunger Zero Waste, spearheaded by The Kroger Family of Companies, a founding partner and major donor to Feeding America, aims to reduce America’s massive problem with food waste, while at the same time helping to end our widespread problem with hunger.

The campaign aims to provide 3 billion balanced, nutritious meals to food insecure households by 2025. And they’re well on their way — the campaign has already donated 330 million meals. They’re also advocating for public policy solutions to address hunger in the United States.

[rebelmouse-image 19532463 dam="1" original_size="5472x3648" caption="Photo by Nicolas Barbier Garreau/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Nicolas Barbier Garreau/Unsplash.

These efforts highlight the changing attitudes around hunger in America.

“Don’t let pride get in the way,” Amos says. “I’m sure nobody knew what I was going through because that’s not something you want to share with other people. But there are great organizations out there that can help.”

A change of attitude is also key for those who are food secure. It’s important to remember that individuals may be struggling — even if outwardly they look fine, Amos says.

Amos also stresses that, with food insecurity such a widespread phenomenon, we should feel called to action.

“I can’t imagine that many children are going to bed and may be hungry,” she says. “I can’t accept that.”

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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