What drives Eat My Lunch founder Lisa King to feed hungry kids

Denied a loan from the bank, told by her friends the idea would never work and faced with naysayers every step of the way, Lisa King accepted there would be challenges when launching her business. 

But luckily for the Eat My Lunch founder, her drive is in-part propelled by others who doubted her and she was committed to her business model: to give a free lunch to a child in need for every packed lunch a customer purchased. 

"Even before we launched in those early days of just getting the idea together and setting up, so many people told us it was a really dumb idea and that it was never going to work," Ms King told Newshub. 

"I hate being told what I can't do, so I think having that really fuelled me to go out and actually prove to myself and everyone that this could work."

The mother-of-two was inspired when she saw a piece on the news about kids in New Zealand going to school without food to eat.
The mother-of-two was inspired when she saw a piece on the news about kids in New Zealand going to school without food to eat. Photo credit: Eat My Lunch

The mother-of-two was first inspired to make a difference three years ago, when she saw a piece on the news about kids in New Zealand going to school without food.

"I really wanted to do something about it and one night I was wearing a pair of Toms Shoes. Toms have a 'buy one, give one' model so for every pair of shoes you buy they donate a pair to kids in a developing country. 

"I thought that's such a simple idea, why don't we do it for lunch? Because everybody eats lunch every day."

That night she came up with the name Eat My Lunch, the next day registered the company, initially launching the enterprise from her home. 

Well-known celebrities offer their time to volunteer work, like Joseph Parker.
Well-known celebrities offer their time to volunteer work, like Joseph Parker. Photo credit: Eat My Lunch

When it came to grow, Ms King turned to the community, launching two crowdfunding campaigns, via PledgeMe. 

"When we came up with the idea we always wanted to create this social movement, we wanted everyone to be a part of it.

"We needed more money to move out of our home and into a commercial kitchen to expand to Wellington, we could've borrowed money but we thought it would be really cool if everyone in New Zealand could own a piece of Eat My Lunch and help us get to all of the country."

Ms King's desire to care for those around her developed from a young age, after she moved with her parents from Hong Kong to New Zealand as a two-year-old. 

"They always had this sense of community and helping others, particularly new immigrants that were coming here. 

"Through my high school and university years I did a lot of volunteer work for Starship or the City Mission, so it was always something I really wanted to do but never thought that I could get paid to do that. 

"Eat My Lunch has been this ideal job that incorporates my corporate, commercial background with giving back and generosity." 

“One of the core values of Eat My Lunch is ‘actions, not words'" -  Lisa King (pictured)
“One of the core values of Eat My Lunch is ‘actions, not words'" - Lisa King (pictured) Photo credit: Newshub

It's a 24/7 role for Ms King who says this job is the hardest job that she has ever had. 

"When you own your business it's always on, you've got staff calling you at 4:30am because something hasn't arrived and you're always the last one to leave, a lot goes into it but then the rewards with that are huge as well," she said. 

In the little more than three years the company has been running, Ms King has grown the from a home business to employing six staff to today boasting 45 staff throughout Auckland and Wellington. 

In that time they've given more than 920,000 lunches to kids across 82 schools in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington. 

Eat My Lunch has given out more than 920,000 lunches to kids across 82 schools in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington. (Pictured: Travel influencer and content creator Logan Dodds)
Eat My Lunch has given out more than 920,000 lunches to kids across 82 schools in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington. (Pictured: Travel influencer and content creator Logan Dodds) Photo credit: Raina Wessen

They are proudly about to celebrate their 1 millionth lunch.

"It's grown so much bigger than we thought it ever would, starting from our home.

"I think the great thing about Eat My Lunch is when you're sitting there eating your lunch, you know that a kid is also getting one that very day so the impact is really immediate and tangible," she said. 

Her work has not gone unnoticed, drawing support not just from those who thought she couldn't, but well-known celebrities who give their time as volunteers. 

Ms King is up for the 2018 EY Entrepreneur of the Year, the Woman of Influence Awards and was a candidate to win the New Zealander of the Year in 2015 when the business was in its infancy.  

She says to anyone else looking to expand into business that it is about shutting down the inner critic and not letting life get in the way. 

"One of the core values of Eat My Lunch is 'actions, not words'. 

"We can all sit around talking about a problem or what is being done about 'this and that' and that's how Eat My Lunch really came about, is that we actually really wanted to do something to help and not just wait for others or talk about it. 

'Action is really important and just being able to take that action and doing it quickly, and having no regrets. 

"We all have amazing ideas, in the reality of jobs and mortgages and kids, and life, you think it's never going to work, and I say 'just try it', 'just do it' - you never know what's going to happen."

King says the issue of children going hungry is a huge problem with a very complex answer.  (Pictured: Maaka Pohatu)
King says the issue of children going hungry is a huge problem with a very complex answer. (Pictured: Maaka Pohatu) Photo credit: Eat My Lunch

For Ms King, the rewards have been overwhelming, getting a first-hand look into the impact her work is having on others. 

For the first seven months, the team's first job after every production shift was to deliver the lunches to the schools. 

"We got to know the kids really well, and to start they really struggle with some of the food, they hold their noses eating some of the vegetables, it's always really interesting but they get used to it and after a week or so, they really love it." 

Ms King says the issue of children going hungry is a huge problem with a very complex answer and says no one person or organisation is going to be able to solve it on their own. 

"I think there are a lot of systemic issues that need to be addressed. 

Lisa says they need everyone to get on board, because this isn't just one person's problem, "it's everyone's issue".
Lisa says they need everyone to get on board, because this isn't just one person's problem, "it's everyone's issue". Photo credit: Eat My Lunch

"What we're trying to do is enable the kids to come to school firstly, because a lot of kids get kept if they run out of food, so just getting them to school, making sure that they're in the right space and have the right nutrition to actually learn so that they can get an education and they can have options further down the track and hopefully they can break that cycle.

"For us, we're not out to solve the issues that are happening at home and why they got there in the first place, but recognising that there are so many kids turning up to school with no food and enabling them to participate and learn in class. That's what we're trying to do. 

"Everyone's got a role to play in helping the community and particularly these kids who are so vulnerable and have no choice.

"That's want we want to create now to help us get to one million, we couldn't have got to 900,000 on our own.  

"We just need everyone to get on board, because this isn't just one person's problem, it's everyone's issue." 

Newshub. 

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