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Q&A with Braeden Mannering
On the surface, Braeden Mannering is like any other 13-year-old boy. He likes to read comic books, swim, and write short stories. Braeden admits he’s a bit addicted to Minecraft, a video game series. One of his top places to visit is Sky Zone, a trampoline park.
Dig a bit deeper, though, and you’ll find much more. The Bear, Delaware, teen is the founder of 3B Brae’s Brown Bags, a 501(c)3 public charity. It helps homeless and low-income people access healthy food, clean water, and contact information for additional services.
Although he lives in an urban area, Braeden shares a goal with U.S. farmers in helping to feed people. He’s also raising awareness regarding food insecurity and poverty. Another goal is to inspire U.S. youth to become part of the solution.
Braeden’s interest in cooking and nutrition led to him winning the 2013 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge and being invited to the White House for the Kids’ State Dinner. A question asked by former First Lady Michelle Obama inspired him to start 3B Brae’s Brown Bags. Since then, he’s spoken at a number of events and started 3B Ripples, a subgroup that establishes student organizations. Funds for 3B Brae’s Brown Bags come from donations and grants.
SF: What happened at the White House State Dinner that inspired you to start 3B Brae’s Brown Bags?
BM: Michelle Obama asked me how I would pay the experience forward. I didn’t know how to answer her.
On the way back, my mom and I were walking to the train station and I saw homeless people holding up signs saying they needed food and shelter. This made me very sad. I remember seeing people in Delaware with signs and feeling sad, too. These people are someone’s sons or daughters.
(In Washington), I thought about giving them my souvenir money. My mom said it’s not a good idea to just give homeless people money. One time, before I even started Brae’s Brown Bags, I was in the car with my mom and we were stopped at a red light. There was a woman standing in the median who looked tired and sad. I rolled down my window and gave her a water bottle. She thanked me and called me an angel. I realized that I can do something to help out.
I put water bottles and healthy food like fruit snacks, granola bars, and carrot sticks in the brown bags to give them. My mom suggested I put brochures for shelters and organizations that might be able to help the person.
Anytime I see a person on the street with a sign saying they need help, I give them one of my bags and I hope I can help them. I also drop bags off at emergency shelters so people can pick them up before they go to work. I’ve also dropped bags off at schools.
SF: Have you changed any bag offerings?
BM: There are three specialty bags. The kids’ bags have books and other things like drawing materials. The workforce bags include toiletry items, deodorant, and toothbrushes. Winter bags contain hand warmers and scarves. All of the bags contain food and water bottles.
SF: Why the emphasis on healthy foods?
BM: Homeless people or people who don’t have a lot of money do not usually have access to healthy food. It’s important for them to have nourishment.
SF: What’s your connection with farming?
BM: I’ve always been interested in agriculture and farming because of my cooking. I have learned to cook healthy foods, some of which come from my little garden where I grow and pick tomatoes. I have also been at the farm at the University of Delaware and picked tomatoes there.
That farm also donates produce to our annual celebration, which is free to the public. This year, it’s August 19 at the Bear-Glasgow (Delaware) YMCA. We talk about what we’ve been doing with 3B, give certificates to all kids involved in Ripples, and offer a healthy menu.
Name: Braeden Mannering
Title: Founder, 3B Brae’s Brown Bags
Background: The Bear, Delaware, native started 3B Brae’s Brown Bags in 2013. With his mother and Chief Operating Officer Christy Mannering, Braeden has so far served up over 10,400 brown bags filled with healthy food. For more information, go to braesbrownbags.org.