At just seven years old, Ethan Hill saw a homeless man on his drive to school. He turned to his mother and started asking questions. “What was that gentleman doing there? If I live in a nice house with my family, why doesn’t he? What can be done to help?” Those simple questions were the start of a journey. Unable to shake off the injustice he saw, Ethan used his $100 Christmas money to buy a sleeping bag and some other essentials to make a meaningful difference in that person’s life.
Ethan’s journey began with a question: “What can be done?” Today, he’s answering it, one act of compassion at a time. His work has evolved into what is today “Ethan’s Heart,” a nonprofit organization that has distributed over 5,000 care packages and survival kits since 2016.
Like Ethan, there are young people all over the world who, from an early age, refuse to accept the status quo and are starting to make a difference in their communities. Hormel Foods has embarked on a mission to spotlight these remarkable changemakers, supporting their journeys and elevating them as champions for positive change.
The 10 Under 20 Food Heroes Awards
Launched in 2020, the Hormel Foods 10 Under 20 Food Heroes program recognizes and supports 10 young change makers and entrepreneurs under the age of 20 who are working to improve access and equity to our food systems. These Food Heroes are selected for their innovative ideas, ability to inspire others, and the impact of their initiatives.
In September, Hormel Foods proudly announced its second cohort of honorees, reinforcing the company’s commitment to nurturing the next generation of leaders.
The 2023 honorees represent a powerful movement that not only highlights the efforts of young leaders, but also gives them a seat at the table. Their stories and programs are a testament to the commitment of a new generation fired up to tackle pressing global challenges. With a shared passion to address food insecurity, the Food Heroes demonstrated a breadth of focus areas and innovative approaches. Food insecurity is intricately linked with various factors, including socioeconomic status, race and the environment, as evidenced by the projects led by this year’s Food Heroes.
Beyond the recognition, being named a Food Hero opens doors to myriad opportunities. Honorees gain access to invaluable resources and support from Hormel Foods, including mentorship, internship options, executive advising meetings and hands-on experiences, empowering them to increase their impact.
The inaugural honoree of this second class and a long-time friend of Hormel Foods, Cavanaugh Bell began his change-making efforts at the age of five when he stood up to end bullying for good. Through his organization Cool & Dope, he has provided food and medical supplies to over 10,000 people. Cavanaugh’s story has gained widespread recognition and was recently featured by the nonprofit organization Sing Me a Story, which gives children in need the opportunity to write and illustrate stories about anything they want and turn them into songs. In partnership with Conscious Alliance and Hormel Foods, this particular song was written and recorded by drummer and percussionist Nikki Glaspie, inspired by Cavanaugh’s story, “The Kid Who Will Change the World.“
The Power of Face-to-Face
Hormel Foods hosted this year’s Food Heroes at its global headquarters in Austin, Minnesota. The day was packed with activities, including panel discussions, mentoring sessions with company executives and the award ceremony. The group also had the opportunity to explore the Hormel Foods innovation center and connect with the other honorees. As part of this award, Hormel Foods provided financial grants to support each of their journeys and ensure the continuity of their initiatives. In a world dominated by virtual connections, this event highlighted the power of face-to-face interactions in nurturing innovation and fostering lasting change.
I am truly impressed by the passion displayed by this year’s Food Heroes and their determination to make a difference. They’re thinking big! Their eagerness to push forward and make a difference is inspiring. The mentorship sessions have been a phenomenal initiative, allowing us to learn about their projects and offer support. I feel privileged to be a part of these discussions, guiding these Food Heroes as they continue on their impactful journey.Florence Makope, Vice President, Treasurer, Hormel Foods
Passion was a recurring theme of the discussion. Jeff Baker, group vice president of Retail Marketing – Value-Added Meats at Hormel Foods, hosted a thought-provoking panel discussion, where each of the 10 honorees shared their stories and lessons learned along their journey. William Cabaniss, one of the honorees and founder of Vanilla Feeds Tomorrow, said, “There are always opportunities to find what you’re passionate about and then take action. Starting small is the best way to go. I challenge everyone to do the same. No matter how successful you are or how far you go, any difference you make is a difference that wouldn’t have been made if you didn’t take that step. And if you don’t do it, who will?” Through his nonprofit organization, Cabaniss sells his own vanilla extract and donates profits to local food banks, having provided more than 600,000 local meals to date.
This year’s event included engaging mentorship sessions in which honorees were paired with company leaders based on their expertise. These connections have already paved the way for future collaboration opportunities, such as ongoing mentorship and internships.
“Being a Food Hero means the world to me. It’s recognition of the work that we’ve all been doing, acknowledgment that we are making a change, and most importantly, recognition that youth can create change,” said Shrusti Amula, food waste advocate and founder of the Rise N Shine Foundation. Shrusti’s efforts have helped divert more than 200,000 pounds of food waste away from landfills and raise awareness about the connection between food waste and climate change.
With a wide range of topics and innovative approaches to address food insecurity, a shared sentiment resonated: “You have to be tenacious, there will be tedious work to put into it,” honoree Michael Platt, founder of Michaels Desserts, said during his panel remarks. A dedicated baker, food justice advocate and author, Michael donates the proceeds from every cupcake sold to someone in need, exemplifying his unwavering commitment to the cause.
The award garnered significant media attention, with the story featured in USA Today under the title, “Meet 10 Activists Under 17 Years Old Honored for Helping Fight Food Insecurity.” The story detailed each of the honorees’ inspiring journeys and the substantial impact they have made so far. The project struck a chord and was subsequently picked up by over 250 national and regional outlets, amplifying the initiative’s impact and effectively raising awareness about their work combating food insecurity, among other worthy causes.
Innovative Pathways: Addressing Food Insecurity
“Food insecurity is an invisible issue,” said honoree Claire Chi, founder of Dancing Against Hunger. Witnessing this struggle among her school peers from a young age, Claire now uses dance workshops to raise awareness and funds to support local food banks.
“We all have a shared responsibility to conserve the environment. Pollinators contribute to a large percentage of what we eat and our economy,” noted Michelle Song, founder of Community for Environmental Sustainability. Starting as an advocate for gardening and expanding into various sustainability initiatives, her work underscores the vital link between our choices, food insecurity and the health of our planet.
Similarly, Mari Copeny’s advocacy for clean water in her hometown of Flint has made ripple effects. During the Flint water crisis, Mari refused to feel helpless. Instead, she raised her voice, fighting for her community and its kids. Her efforts expanded nationally, supporting communities grappling with toxic drinking water. Now, Mari has developed her own innovative water filter sold nationwide.
Gardening was a recurring theme among the winner’s projects. For Te’Lario Watkins, founder of Tiger Mushroom Farms, everything started when he grew his own mushrooms at home for a Cub Scout project. He now provides fresh mushrooms and other vegetables from his own community garden to farmers markets and even to local restaurants while supporting food banks.
Beyond food donations, the group agrees that education goes a long way in making a lasting community change. Khloe Thompson started adding nonprofit leadership workshops to her organization when she recognized a need among youth eager to start their business but unsure how or where to start. She leveraged what she learned and put it into workshops. Through her organization, Khloe Kares, she supports homeless women transitioning to stable housing, along with leading projects to enhance water quality in Ghana.
The 10 Under 20 Food Heroes program is testament that regardless of age, anyone can make a lasting impact through passion, dedication and innovative solutions. It showcases the potential within every individual, inspiring change and fostering a brighter future for communities in need. The team at Hormel Foods is eager to support efforts like these, providing a forum for change in years to come.
This experience has shown me how great our world is. No matter where you are, there are always people in your life who are willing to step in and help, no matter what you’re trying to do. If you want to make the world a better place, someone in your life will show up out of the blue and help you see the change you want to see in the world.William Cabaniss, 2023 Food Hero