Moms on a Mission: Fighting Hunger and Teaching Kids to Be Thankful with ‘Turkey on the Table’

California moms April George and Kerry Maunus never dreamed a casual chat would lead them to spark a craze for a must-have Thanksgiving item, create a new holiday tradition – and help fight hunger at the same time.

It all started on an autumn day in 2013 when the new friends who bonded when George moved to the Bay area from Tennessee earlier that summer took a walk after dropping their kids off at school and happily discovered that Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday.

“We were talking about how it’s such a feel-good time when families gather together and how it’s so meaningful to understand how much you have to be thankful for,” says George, 46, who with Maunus, 42, is among PEOPLE’s 25 Women Changing the World.

The conversation turned to the importance of teaching kids to be grateful for what they have and to give back.

But how?

After weeks of brainstorming and online research, the answer came in the form of an adorable knit sweater-clad turkey with a Styrofoam body and attachable feathers for messages of gratitude.

Turkey on the Table, they called it, would look great as a Thanksgiving centerpiece and become a holiday tradition by encouraging those gathered around the table to talk about the very reason for the holiday: giving thanks.

“When we started to do the research on gratitude, we realized it’s not innate to be grateful,” says Maunus, who has three boys. “So the onus is on the family and the community to teach children about being grateful.”

For full coverage of PEOPLE’s 25 Women Changing the World, pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday

They also wanted to make sure a portion of the proceeds from the sales of the $ 39.99 turkey provide meals for those in need.

“We’re happy that this is bringing awareness to hunger in America,” says Maunus. “One in 8 people are food insecure, including single moms and people with jobs. Everyone should have access to food in this country.”

Instant Mompreneurs

Armed with a promising idea, the two stay-at-home moms had no clue how to get their idea from laptop to tabletop.

“We were two moms with zero experience in manufacturing and product design, but we thought this idea was too good not to do something with,” says George, who has two girls.

They made it work. “We learned to become very scrappy and figure things out, face challenges and work through them,” says Maunus, “We learned along the way.”

They found a factory in China to manufacture the turkeys and an artist to illustrate the tiny book Maunus wrote that comes with each one.

Before they knew it, “It became a full-time job,” says Maunus.

Two years later, in the fall of 2015, they were ready to sell their first batch.

“Initially we ordered 5,000 turkeys and friends said, ‘Girl, that’s a little aggressive. I don’t think you understand how many 5,000 is,’” says George. “But we were comfortable with that number.”

They threw a launch party to benefit their local food bank, donating a portion of proceeds from the fete to the charity – and told the people who came to spread the word.

“People bought them,” says Maunus. “Then, through the magic of Facebook and Instagram, word caught on quickly in Massachusetts and Indiana. That’s how we ended up with a handful of retailers.

“We sold out the Monday before Thanksgiving. We realized we were onto something.”

So were others.

The hunger relief organization Feeding America learned what the two moms were doing and offered to partner with them.

“We were shocked,” says George. “Partnering with Feeding America was the biggest miracle out of the sky.”

A New Reason to Give Thanks

Today, Turkey on the Table is sold online and in more than 1,500 retailers nationwide.

For each turkey sold, 10 meals are provided to people in need. To date, Turkey on the Table has provided 862,022 meals.

“Our goal is to reach the 1 million mark in 2018,” says Maunus.

They’re thrilled that Turkey on the Table is doing more than just helping to feed people.

“We’ve gotten letters from people saying thank you for helping us to create conversations about gratitude around our table,” says Maunus. “Knowing how many people we’ve helped keeps us going.”


PEOPLE.com

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On Saturday, the 40-year-old actress and her daughter traveled to Turkey in honor of World Refugee Day, where they spent time touring a Syrian and Iraqi refugee camp in the southeastern province of Mardin.

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In addition to their tour, the actress also met with UN officials, as well as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whom she thanked for his generosity towards the Syrian and Iraqis refugees. Jolie also voiced her concerns in an impassioned speech:

“We are here for a simple reason: This region is at the epicenter of a global crisis. Nearly 60 million people are displaced from their homes. That is one in every 122 people on our planet. Our world has never been richer or healthier or more advanced. Yet never before have so many people been dispossessed and stripped of their basic human rights,” she said. “We should call this what it is: not just a ‘refugee crisis,’ but a crisis of global security and governance, that is manifesting itself in the worst refugee crisis ever recorded – and a time of mass displacement.”

She added, “I plead to the international community and leaders of the world to recognize what this moment in mass human displacement means. This is not just another day. This World Refuge Day marks some frightening truths about our inability to manage international crisis – about our inability to broker peace and find lasting solutions.”

To read Jolie’s entire speech, head over to The UN Refugee Agency website.

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