June 03, 2021  

How one PepsiCo associate is fighting hunger in St. Louis

Summer means more kids need meals, and Eltoreon Hawkins has stepped up to make sure Food for Good reaches as many of them as possible.

When Eltoreon Hawkins distributes meals with Food for Good, he knows he’s doing more than handing out sandwiches. “Black leaders are not often visible, even in St. Louis,” the program City Lead explains. Sometimes, kids would ask him to relay feedback to the boss. “I would tell them, ‘You’re looking at him,’” he says. “I really have to break it down for them because they don’t really see young Black leaders in the communities that I serve.”

Eltoreon’s path to leadership started when he was a young man himself, 22 years old and volunteering at a city-sponsored health drive. That’s where he first learned about PepsiCo’s Food for Good and their U.S. operations program that distributes meals to families in need. The day he showed up to interview for a job packing meals, Eltoreon was hired on the spot. “I ended up packing food for eight hours in a refrigerator wearing my church clothes,” he laughs. “So that’s how I got started.”

That quick decision has re-defined the course of the St. Louis native’s career. He originally planned to be a police officer, but now has worked with Food for Good for six years, currently managing a team of three food packers and six drivers. “My heart aligns with this,” he says.

Everybody is important to us. Every kid matters, every neighborhood matters.

And Food for Good’s mandate has never been more urgent. According to Food Security Information Network, more than 11 million children across the U.S. live in food-insecure homes, a number that has more than tripled during the pandemic. That scarcity worsens during summer months because kids don’t have access to school meal programs, and parents may not have the funds to provide three meals a day. “The parents have to spend more on meals in the summertime, but their income doesn’t change,” Eltoreon explains.

Food for Good’s St. Louis team has already distributed more than one million meals during the pandemic, and Eltoreon is preparing for an even busier summer, packing boxes to be shipped to families or prepared for contactless drop-offs. The team expects to double its routes and add a weekend program with the hopes of delivering up to 1.2 million meals this summer.

Eltoreon loading meals into a Food for Good truck.

Eltoreon loading meals into a Food for Good truck.

Eltoreon works to ensure Food for Good reaches the communities that need it most. He has thrown block parties to create a setting where families feel comfortable accepting free meals. (“People don’t like to feel needy,” he explains.) And he visits distribution sites to make sure all his partners know they are vital to Food for Good’s cause. “I want to let them know that everybody is important to us,” Eltoreon says. “Every kid matters, every neighborhood matters.”

That sense of commitment has helped Eltoreon rise up in the ranks at Food for Good. “I have to act as an owner and make the decision to act as if they’re my dollars, they’re my employees, they’re my family.”

I have to act as an owner and make the decision to act as if they’re my dollars, they’re my employees, they’re my family.

Working for a company that aligns with his values helps, too. “PepsiCo has been 100 percent behind my back when it comes to my community work and who I am as an individual,” he says. Eltoreon also admires the company’s commitment to invest more than $400 million to lift up Black communities. “For me as a young Black leader, that is huge,” he says.

What Eltoreon loves most about his work, though, is meeting the kids. “That’s kind of the highlight of the job,” he says. “During COVID, not being able to do that was a big drag. But at the same time, I know that we’re feeding the kids. That’s our mission and our goal. So that keeps me coming in every day.”