In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic put the world on pause while also exacerbating long-standing inequities to unprecedented levels. While most were Zoom calling, Uber Eats ordering, and VERZUZ watching their way to a bit of normalcy, 14 million children in the United States didn’t know where they’d get their next meal every day. In a country that gave out $25 billion of taxpayer money to major airlines in the first few months of an unprecedented pandemic to keep them in business, millions of these children were left to starve. But now, help is on the way.
Academy Award winner, producer, actor, and TV host Terrence “Terrence J” Jenkins and appliance conglomerate Maytag recently partnered to help lessen food insecurity in America by launching the Maytag Feel Good Fridge program. As part of the program, Maytag will donate free fridges to select Boys and Girls Club of America (BGCA) locations around the country, starting with ten fridges donated to BGCA Clubs in Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, and Grand Rapids with goals of having 20 fridges feeding underserved communities by early 2022. The program’s attack on food insecurity is multi-pronged, supplying food to satisfy the need, and choosing healthy foods in order to adjust the habits.
“They’re donating these fridges to Boys N Girls Club and stocking them with good food these kids need. We’re creating those healthy habits and then we’re building the program out because food insecurity isn’t a problem Oprah can just fix for us. It’s a problem all of us have to fix it collectively,” Jenkins told CassiusLife.
Speaking with CassiusLife, Jenkins explains how the Maytag Feel Good Fridge program is deeper than an endorsement to him, the nutrition misinformation at the heart of food insecurity, and how he’s using his celebrity to do good in the world.
Fame and fortune haven’t divorced 39-year-old Terrence J from the food insecurity that ravages impoverished families because the memories of his own hardships still occupy his thoughts. At the age of 11, Terrence moved from New York City to North Carolina with his single mother Lisa Jenkins and had bouts of food insecurity follow him and his family. Most of the food-deprived children Jenkins will help through the Maytag Feel Good Fridge Program are only strangers to him by face, not by familiarity.
“I was on welfare for the first couple of years of my life, so I know what it’s like to have an EBT card and be on government-funded food, so having school meals were important. When you got to the Boys N Girls Club and got that snack or whatever it was, that held you down until you got home and got your meal for the night.”
The same BGCA that will be housing these fridges is the same organization that took a young Jenkins in at some of the most vulnerable times of his life. It was there his sense of community was strengthened and why he knows the Maytag Feel Good Fridge program will only reach as many people as the community around them. His humble beginnings and celebrity access work in concert to help him identify problems that have persisted since his upbringing and know which resources to tap into to affect change. The same man who still “knows what it feels like when your stomach is touching” and can identify the hunger he once had in the faces and conditions of the third-world countries and islands he’s able to visit on his work travels. Similar to community fridges which popped up across the country during the pandemic allowing people to donate food for anyone in the community in need, the fridges will be stocked initially by Maytag, but Jenkins implores the average person to take ownership of the future of the healthy food options for their communities.
“They’re donating these fridges to Boys N Girls Club and stocking it with good food these kids need. We’re creating those healthy habits and then we’re building the program out because food insecurity isn’t a problem Oprah can just fix for us. It’s a problem all of us have to fix it collectively.”
It’s the focus on changing habits instead of simply filling bellies that makes Jenkins’s altruistic endeavor with Maytag more than a celebrity throwing money at a problem. Jenkins remembers being a child and the extent of his food knowledge was the nutrition pyramid which recommended multiple services of cheese, milk, meat, and poultry every day. He also remembers feeling sluggish after eating too much meat and his body rejecting dairy products. Everywhere you look now there are vegan food options, zero-calorie drinks, and a new trendy superfood every year. The Maytag Feel Good Fridge program is aiming to attack food insecurity at its core: access and information.
You may see Jenkins the Roc Nation Brunch rubbing shoulders with LaLa Anthony, Kevin Hart, and Jay-Z. Or, you may see him joking around with Will Smith at the launch of Smith’s new book. But, he assures CassiusLife he’s always looking to help those less fortunate even when he’s around those abundantly blessed. “Steve Harvey, Kevin [Hart], and all of us are like, ‘How do we fix these problems?'” He’s still the teenage Terrence Jenkins running around BGCA at heart, and he’s trying to do what he can to help.
“I don’t have as much money as Kanye [West] does, but I know all of these types of problems have to be fixed by all of us individually working together. That’s why I wanted to do my part.”