Peanut butter and jelly slathered in between two slices of bread is the typical go-to lunch on a lazy day. Many of us take this delicious sandwich spread for granted.
So what if peanut butter could be put to even better use?
In 2007, Orange County local Stan Smith began a quest to help save the lives of starving children and their families living in the rural areas of Malawi, Africa. After working for five years with the Malawian locals, he saw the devastation and deadly effects of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) on thousands of villagers.
In March 2012, Smith and four others pooled their money and time together to create PB+J Foods, Inc., a nonprofit in Laguna Niguel designed to cure SAM and to help build a self-sustaining local economy that can provide for its citizens.
SAM contributes to the death of more than 3.6 million children ever year, and PB+J has saved nearly 1,200 lives in Malawi since Smith and his team began their mission.
Donna Wertz, chief financial officer of PB+J, says that before she and Smith started the company, they met with people at Nkhoma hospital in Malawi who were helping treat malaria patients.
“Even those who made it to the hospital were still dying,” Wertz says. “Malaria is recoverable once you have the proper medication, but these poor children came so malnourished that even with care, their bodies were still shutting down."
Wertz says she and Smith asked the hospitals over and over again what they could do to fix this problem, and the idea of recovery through fortified peanut butter paste was brought to the table.
“We met immediately after the trip and did research on how help could be provided to the Nkhoma hospital in regards to producing a fortified peanut butter paste,” Wertz says. “With the hospital's permission, we figured out the formula, brought in regular kitchen blenders and got to work.”
Wertz says all the money donated goes directly to help eradicate SAM.
“The people who truly need this can’t afford to buy it,” Wertz says. “Knowing that all the money we raise goes directly to the cause makes it all worth it. If they can get the paste for free, our job is done.”
Haley Hunsaker, director of operations, says their goal is to ensure that each PB+J manufacturing plant will be self-sustaining and to create opportunity for economic growth in the project area.
“We don’t want anybody to be dependent on us here,” Hunsaker says. “They need to be fully sustainable there.”
Hunsaker started the Malawi manufacturing plant from scratch and hired and trained the people who are overseeing its expansion.
“We want the plants to be run and operated solely by the hospitals in a project area, so that it will help create economic growth in the community,” Wertz says. “We are trying to raise $80,000 more to fund our 2014 operation in Malawi, which will feed and save the lives of 11,000 children next year."
PB+J also provides a nutritional educational program through outreach clinics in villages that provide participants with basic knowledge and skills in the area of food safety and storage, nutrition and family planning.
“When you are amongst the people in Malawi and see what’s going on, it can be incredibly overwhelming and you may feel like there’s nothing you can do,” Wertz says. “But then you can stand back and realize, all I need to do is make some peanut butter.”
How Can You Help?
Visit the website to donate in order to help the
development of current and new programs of PB+J.