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4-H Youth is 'Making a Difference' One Community Food Pantry at a Time

Posted by Scott Elliott, National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Research and Science
Apr 18, 2018
Mackenzie Hinson
Mackenzie Hinson is making a difference by operating a food pantry in Mount Olive, North Carolina. (Photo by Craig Ladd)

Sometimes, to make a difference, you just have to take matters into your own hands. That’s exactly what 4-H’er Mackenzie Hinson did in Mount Olive, North Carolina. As a result, thousands of area residents worry less about finding healthy food to eat.

“Kenzie” was a 10-year-old member of Jordan's Chapel and Bowevelle 4-H clubs when her life changed forever. “I did a speech, ‘Hunger in Our Communities,’ for a 4-H competition and learned how many people in my community and state suffer from hunger,” she said. “It was a problem right here!”

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is the home of 4-H National Headquarters. The 4-H Youth Development Program is the youth outreach program from the land-grant institutions’ cooperative extension services. 4-H creates positive learning experiences; positive relationships for and between youth and adults; positive, safe environments; and opportunities for positive risk taking.

Knowing that hunger was in her own community moved Kenzie to volunteer at local food pantries. Though satisfying, it just wasn’t enough; she wanted to offer something more – dignity. That’s when she took the leap from volunteer to director of her own non-profit, the Make a Difference (MAD) Food Pantry in Mount Olive.

“I wanted to offer people education to help improve their health and give them some of their pride back, since most were embarrassed to be at a food pantry,” she said. “It’s not just about food, but how you make people feel.”

Now 13, Kenzie is a veteran of overcoming obstacles, beginning with people not taking her seriously because of her age. With perseverance and support from her parents, she has overcome many of the logistical challenges of supplying and funding a non-profit organization through grants and awards. Further, she has earned certificates in Childhood Nutrition, Feeding the World, Obesity and the Effects on Society, and Mental Health in Today's Society from such renowned institutions as Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Florida.

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed – especially her crisis leadership in the wake of 2016’s Hurricane Matthew.

“Our town was cut off from everyone and we can say we were an island,” said Mount Olive Mayor Joe Scott. “The Red Cross could not get in, nor was there anything set up to help our town. Mackenzie called and … we set up a staging area. With her help we fed over 400 people the first day.”

To date, Kenzie and the MAD Pantry have served more than 418,700 people and given away 600,000 pounds of food.

“Mackenzie's goal is to have a health clinic for the basic goals, blood pressure and simple evaluations for the needy,” Scott said. “Also, she has requested a Mayor's Youth Council, which we will kick off in June of 2018.

“Mackenzie Hinson is a remarkable young woman,” he said. “Her work in the community cannot get a price tag, as you can't buy her service. She is a godsend to Mount Olive.”

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.

Category/Topic: Research and Science