What one local man did to fight hunger in the region

In one of the nation’s richest counties, a large number of children still struggle to get fed well. In order to ensure fewer children go hungry in the region, Jeremy Lichtenstein, agent at RE/MAX Realty, founded the KIND program: Kids in Need Distributors.

ABERMAN: Why did you decide to take on the challenge of providing food to kids?

LICHTENSTEIN: Well, I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, which borders Washington, D.C. And I just could not believe, for the life of me, that there are over 50 thousand kids on the FARM Program in Montgomery County, in the public schools, which means a federal reduced meal plan. So, that equates to 35 percent. And once I heard about that, I said, I have to find out more about this. I looked into it further, and I just realized that there are so many families in need, when all we talk about is how wealthy Montgomery County is. One of the richest counties in the United States has 50 thousand kids in a free and reduced meal plan. So, I figured I needed to do something.

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ABERMAN: These kids, they get fed because of federal dollars during the week. But the issue is, they’re not in school on the weekends, so there’s no support for them then?

LICHTENSTEIN: Correct. So basically, snow days, they’re not fed, days that are canceled for whatever reason, they’re not fed, and weekends, they’re not fed. And once I started digging into the public records of what you can get on the internet, I realized there are some schools that almost 80, 90 percent of school kids at the schools are actually on that program. So, there’s some schools that we feed two 200 kids at, but there’s 600 on the waiting list.

ABERMAN: So what does your program, KIND, do? It provides meals, do kids come to a place on the weekends? How does it work?

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LICHTENSTEIN: What we do typically is, we started at one school, 37 kids, and we provided food for them just for the weekend. And after knowing that there’s so many more kids in other schools that needed as well, we basically just went in quick speed mode, and started reaching out to more principals and more counselors. And before you know it, we’re feeling two hundred and eight hundred and eleven hundred and up to twenty two hundred, and it’s been really, really amazing about the typical individual in this area really does want to do the right thing. They just don’t know how to do it.

Once they see that someone grabbed the bull by the horns, they jumped on, and we have over 150 volunteers now. And we have so many people donating money to us, and it’s just been an incredible experience for everyone. I don’t think anyone expected to be this large this quick.

ABERMAN: Again, it does strike me, as an entrepreneur, that when there is a strong need, demand will always exceed supply, and that’s just the same for social venturing. From a practical standpoint, I’m sure people listening will think. geez, I should do this too. Is it hard to set up a not for profit? Do you need a good lawyer, and you know, a good accountant, and so forth? Are the mechanics burdensome?

LICHTENSTEIN: Like anything. I mean, when I started my real estate business, I actually found a niche, and the niche was doing a certain specific type of real estate in a certain specific location. And I knew when I started the KIND program that I didn’t wasn’t just trying to feed the world, but to actually find a niche that would work, and it’s controllable, and I can just grow it at my pace, and then at the same time, if we want to go faster, we can go faster, or if we want to go slower, we can go slower. But it really isn’t that time consuming, the model that I’ve developed, because I do have a regular job.

So, I feel it’s very simple to get started. I feel that you don’t need to go through the whole legal accounting route. Once you get started, once you get established, then absolutely, you want to do a 501c3 where you can be legal and everything, but to get started, it’s very simple. I’ve actually helped probably eight or nine different people in different counties to start a program. It’s not under the KIND umbrella, but I’ve given advice, I’ve shown people how to do it. I’ve given them my model. I’d tell them how everything should play out, and it’s been wonderful. And my plan, truthfully, we have a platform now around the country, that I actually am going to try and create a system for people around the country to start their own programs.

ABERMAN: Jeremy, I really appreciate you coming and sharing this experience. I hope that what you’ve done today is, you’ve inspired some of our listeners to basically emulate what you’ve done. Congratulations for the work you’ve done with KIND so far.

LICHTENSTEIN: Thank you very much.

ABERMAN: That was Jeremy Lichtenstein, it’s great to have you.