WENHAM — It all began with a little girl selling homemade wax candles with her brothers to raise money for their local food pantry.
Fast track a few years, and little has changed for 16-year-old Maria Carpenter.
The Wenham teen tapped into her creative side and recently designed an original line of streetwear — which she punned Mac & Tees — to raise $8,832 for the Acord Food Pantry in Hamilton. All proceeds went directly to the pantry.
“I realized the goodness of people,” Carpenter said, explaining how members from her community came together to bring this project to life.
Printed on orange T-shirts and teal hats, the 10th-grader’s quirky designs not only make a fashion statement but also serve a larger purpose. One in 10 people struggle with hunger in Massachusetts and more than 167,000 of them are children.
“I love designing clothes,” she said, after being inspired by brands like Toms Shoes and Bombas Socks who donate to those in need. “There’s no better way to express what I do than to do it for a cause.”
Carpenter created different packages through her one-month Kickstarter campaign last fall. It soon exceeded her original goal of raising $2,000, which can provide 200 families with food.
“It hit me,” she said, after reaching $4,000 and realizing how much she was going to directly impact people’s lives. “I started crying.”
Founded in 1991, the Acord Food Pantry is a partner of the Greater Boston Food Bank and provides food assistance to residents in Hamilton, Wenham, Ipswich and several other communities. Executive Director Stacey Verge explained how the nonprofit is comprised of a handful of part-time employees and more than 100 local volunteers. “We couldn’t do it without them,” she added.
“There’s a misconception in Essex County that everyone is well-off,” Verge said. She explained how many people in these communities currently seek a safe, welcoming environment to access food resources.
More than 4,000 people visited the pantry in 2018 to pick up their weekly bag of groceries, which includes meat, fish, dairy, fresh produce and non-perishable items.
The nonprofit is fully supported by private donations. “That’s how we survive,” Verge said. When Carpenter reached out to explain her campaign, the director admitted she was impressed. “She’s so young and had everything set up beforehand,” said Verge, noting how the money raised will help the pantry stock up on more fresh produce.
Carpenter, a sophomore at The Governor’s Academy, said the Byfield private school “gave me the ground to begin this,” adding how rewarding it was to have this opportunity in high school to do something she’s passionate about.
As for now, this teen is already planning next year’s fundraising campaign for Acord — one that will feature new styles of clothing and could even extend its reach to include the Greater Boston Food Bank. “I can’t wait to do it again,” she said.