Riverview resident Kennedy McCormick, 16, has fed thousands of meals to people across the Bay area that struggle with food insecurity. Moved by a commercial at the age of 7, Kennedy has dedicated her birthday ever since to putting an end to hunger in Tampa. Unafraid to advocate, fundraise or forego birthday traditions, this teen is changing lives and inspiring other kids that have come to know her.
TBPM: How did you get started as an advocate to end food insecurity in Tampa Bay? What made you feel connected to hunger over other social issues?
Kennedy McCormick: I saw a commercial when I was 7 that talked about child hunger, and I didn’t like seeing the children in the commercial starving and not having anything to eat. I often think about how I had to wait for my parents to fix breakfast when I was young and how hungry I felt just in the couple hours before food was ready, therefore I couldn’t imagine how these children felt not even knowing when or where their next meal would come from.
I started hosting food drives for my birthday instead of receiving gifts. I started setting up boxes at my school as well as my parents’ workplace to collect non-perishable items to send to Feeding Tampa Bay.
TBPM: What do your birthdays look like and how are they different from year to year?
Kennedy McCormick: My celebrations have surrounded my food drives. I have done competitions at my school, a block party in my neighborhood park to get my neighbors to donate, and I’ve also done a piano recital in the year 2020 to help raise money virtually when the pandemic hit and I wasn’t able to do anything in person. This past year, I set up a goal to raise $16,000 for my 16th birthday. Each year I get together with my mom and brainstorm creative ideas to keep people engaged and try to make each year better than the last.
TBPM: How do you believe advocacy and giveback have impacted your life at such a young age? What are some things you get to do that other kids your age may not have experienced?
Kennedy McCormick: Being able to advocate for my community has blessed me in so many ways over the years and helped me be able to have a positive platform. I have gone in public and been recognized by other people which feels crazy to me. I think it has really helped me become more aware of what goes on around me and how different things affect people. I’ve seen how things can really impact others’ lives, and I’ve heard how what I do really inspires other people. This even includes the people who have been in poverty and had to deal with food insecurity. They are grateful for people like me and wish there could be more people doing what I do. I’ve been able to have the experience of many interviews and the opportunity to be on TV. I’ve been able to see a news set behind the scenes and see how it all works while being able to promote my drives to the many people who watch the news every day. I’ve won awards, and I’ve even been given a free cruise that my family and I were able to enjoy this past summer.
TBPM: Talk to us about your 16th birthday goal to raise $16,000. Did you meet your goal?
Kennedy McCormick: I promoted this virtual food drive through social media platforms and got my friends and family to help spread the word. Unfortunately, I did not reach my goal, but I still raised enough money for hundreds of meals.
TBPM: What have been your biggest challenges asking for donations and raising money? How much time do you spend on this outside of school?
Kennedy McCormick: A big challenge is trying to figure out how to get people engaged. In order for people to donate, you have to get the word out there as much as possible but also make sure that you’re doing something that will attract people. I have spent hours outside of school planning and hosting food drives. Last year, my block party food drive was five hours long and although we had fun, we were still making sure to promote and collect as many items as we could. We ended up collecting over 400 boxes of cereal for Feeding Tampa Bay’s Cereal For Summer campaign. The year of my recital, I spent hours rehearsing to make sure everything was on point, which was a lot of work, but I had a lot of help from my family to make sure it was a great show.
TBPM: How long do you plan to commit your birthdays to supporting the efforts of Feeding Tampa Bay? In what ways do you see fundraising in your future?
Kennedy McCormick: I graduate in 2024, so I have two years before I leave for college and I don’t know if I could guarantee that I’ll be able to do the big stuff that I usually do, but I want to do well in fundraising these next couple years that I have still living in this community. I do want to continue to at least set up virtual donation drives even if I can’t do full out drives like I usually do, but I also could be given opportunities and put in positions to do even bigger things while I’m in college and have a larger community. So, I will see what the future holds for me. I would like to be able to find ways to still help out my community.
TBPM: What do you like to do for fun?
Kennedy McCormick: I love playing basketball, going to the beach, and spending time with my family. I love walking around the city in Tampa with my family. I also love when the Women’s Final Four games are at the convention center, and we go watch the games and do all of the activities there.
Originally published in September 2022 of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.