Mary Hoodhood, founder of Kids' Food Basket, shares her thoughts on
leadership with students at a recent Hauenstein Center Wheelhouse Talk
at the DeVos Center.
On an evening more than 20 years ago, Mary Hoodhood had a restless
night of sleep. The thought of a 5-year-old girl sifting through
garbage to find food for her family plagued her conscience.
Hoodhood, who was working at nonprofit God’s Kitchen in Grand Rapids
at the time, heard the story from a friend about a principal who
discovered the child looking for food to take home. The girl’s plight
was echoed by more than 100 other students at the school, the
principal said. It prompted Hoodhood to action.
With donations from friends and family, Hoodhood founded Kids' Food
Basket. Never did she think the organization would eventually serve
thousands of schoolchildren a day and provide 1.6 million meals
annually 20 years later.
“I never thought the problem was that big,” said Hoodhood.
Hoodhood shared her life and leadership perspectives with students as
part of the Hauenstein Center’s Wheelhouse Talks on February 17 at the
DeVos Center, Loosemore Auditorium, on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.
“I don’t frame myself as a leader,” said Hoodhood. “I know I am
because I know I’ve done some stuff, but I don’t really look at myself
as a leader. I do understand that I lead by example.”
An accident at a young age also provided perspective for Hoodhood.
Since 1977, she has been in a wheelchair, the result of an automobile
accident, but she said she has never let her disability define her or
“I had a physical therapist, and she said in life, whether we like it
or not, we're all dependent on the people around us,” Hoodhood said.
“The key is to surround yourself with people that you can depend on.
“The other thing I was told early after I was injured was peace comes
from within. If you really can grasp that and internalize that and
live by that, it really is very powerful.”
Her actions and impact in the Grand Rapids area were recognized in
2010 when President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Citizens
Medal, the second-highest civilian honor available.
“There is joy and happiness in some of the small things in life,”
Hoodhood said. “Appreciate a flower, laugh with a friend, nurture your
relationships. I will not let a disability define me or it deter me
from doing anything I can.”