It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time: How Greg Pearlman ’08 is Tackling Child Hunger
By Camille Dolan ’98
In 2011, as Greg Pearlman ’08 was settling down to watch some Sunday night football, an image on the television caught his eye. It was someone he knew.
“It was an episode of 60 Minutes, and they showed a single dad with his two kids that I passed every morning on my way to work,” Pearlman recalls.
As Pearlman continued to watch, he realized it was one of those moments in life that required his immediate action.
He learned that the CBS news magazine program had shed light on one of Central Florida’s “hidden” problems – homeless and hungry schoolchildren.
“I didn’t know what to do, but I felt like this was a calling of some kind,” Pearlman says.
He called Lisa Moore, then-community relations director for Kavaliro, and wife of Mark Moore ’99, a close friend and Kavaliro’s president and co-founder. Pearlman figured that if anyone knew what to do about what he had just seen on TV, it would be Lisa and Mark.
Lisa, who also worked with the administration teams in the Seminole County school system, told Pearlman she was aware that there were many schoolchildren across the Central Florida area who were homeless. She told Pearlman that, in the short-term, he could go to the grocery store, buy some shelf-stable food, and drop it off at a school.
A Mission is Born
It wasn’t enough. The one-time purchase was not adequate to help the estimated 1 in 4 homeless children in Orange and Seminole counties, but also not enough to quell the feeling in Pearlman’s heart that he needed to do more.
Pearlman’s parents taught him well.
“I grew up two hours away to two very humble parents,” Pearlman says. “My dad’s a cop, my mom was a part-time schoolteacher. I was the first person in my family to go to college.”
As he went off to college, Pearlman’s parents told him two things: don’t get into debt, and don’t take out any credit cards.
Wise words for Pearlman, who majored in finance at UCF’s College of Business. He worked all four years of college and has even parlayed an internship into a 15-year career.
At that internship at Northwestern Mutual, he beheld the power of a UCF connection. Part of his job required “cold-calling” as a way of generating new clients. He did his research and discovered that one local weekly newspaper had a section specifically for business owners who were UCF alumni.
One of those calls reached Mark Moore. Pearlman earned a new client, but more importantly, the two became friends. Both have also stayed involved with UCF; Pearlman was a director on the UCF Alumni Board of Directors and was also a member of the first class of UCF’s 30 Under 30 in 2015.
After Pearlman dropped off some food at a school, he thought again about the man with the two kids.
“It that’s happening and I’m driving past it, how many times have I driven by something similar and not seen it?”
So, after talking with Lisa Moore, they had a thought. They would focus on peanut butter and jelly, and they would
ask the community to donate to local public school food pantries and their Backpack Programs – a fuss-free system that sends children in K-12 home each week with a backpack filled with nutritious food. And partly because of their love of football, Pearlman and Moore decided that their annual fundraising event would be held each year on NFL Kick-Off Thursday, they named their nonprofit, Kick Off for Kids.
There was no official business plan – at first. They put out clear bins in local businesses asking for peanut butter and jelly. They also decided that their first school would be Casselberry Elementary.
“Two days later, we were getting calls that the bins were overflowing and we needed to pick them up,” Pearlman says. “We were like, ‘what do we do with it?’”
First and Ten
They formed the beginning structure of the company; Pearlman would be the “face” of Kick-Off for Kids, and as president, Lisa Moore would do everything else. As they applied for official 501c3 status, they also continued working with Kavaliro, who already held quarterly food drives for the community.
Pearlman, when told that his alma mater would be writing a story about his involvement in Kick Off for Kids, was quick to say that it would not have happened without the involvement of Kavaliro and, especially, Lisa Moore.
“It is so humbling and touching to see a community come together to help their own,” Lisa Moore says. “It takes a village to raise our future and the growing support Kick Off for Kids is receiving is a huge indication that Central Florida wants the best for their children.”
Nobody in Kick Off for Kids takes a salary, Pearlman emphasized. Time is either donated or personally covered by Pearlman, Kavaliro and board members, including, but not limited to, costs associated with Kick Off for Kids’ annual fundraiser.
The entire Kavaliro company, including Chief Operating Officer Bill Peppler ’96, and Managing Partner John Mahoney ’09, have enthusiastically supported Kick Off for Kids, not just by their words, but also by their personal financial support.
For nearly a decade, the event has been held at Rock N Brews in Orlando; last year they netted over $75,000.
“Every dollar raised this year at the event on Sept. 7 will benefit the backpack programs,” Pearlman says.
Despite the nonprofit’s successful history of feeding children in need, Pearlman says that it is still not enough. Sometimes, when he is in traffic behind a school bus, he writes down its number so he can compare it to the list of schools that Kick Off for Kids is currently serving. He can’t bear to think that there are still hungry children in the community.
Below: Greg Pearlman, below with his family at a UCF home game, named his nonprofit because of his love for football and community. He can’t bear to think of one child going to bed hungry at night.
“Last year, our program had expanded to 32 schools in Seminole and Orange counties,” Pearlman says. There was a waitlist for schools to join the program. Pearlman hated that. He told Lisa Moore that he was going to have to tell someone no.
But then, he heard about a community service grant that his company, Northwestern Mutual, awards each year to employees who are doing incredible things. Pearlman went for it. He was notified in March that he was the recipient of a $15,000 grant, one of 14 grants awarded this year throughout the country.
“Because of Northwestern’s generosity, we were able to add six more schools to our list,” Pearlman says. The schools were able to stock their pantries to help even more children and families over the long spring break.
Once a quarter, Pearlman and his army of volunteers descend on local big-box grocery stores, and each volunteer “shops” for food. At the end of the line, Pearlman is waiting with his Kick Off for Kids credit card, and then everyone retreats to their home school.
“We haven’t forgotten about peanut butter and jelly,” Pearlman says. But now, their shopping list includes cups of fruit, and other kid-friendly foods, and any other food that they can do without an oven. The list often includes protein bars, breakfast items, canned pasta and other favorites among children.
“When we get to the schools, the kids are curious,” Pearlman says. “They see us unload 500 Slim Jims, and want to help. Some of the kids might even be receiving the beef jerky later on in a backpack, but no one knows that, they just want to help unload the truck.”
It Takes a Village
Pearlman says the nonprofit relies heavily on volunteer support, as well as donations from the community. He also makes sure that the food is making it to the children, not sitting on a pantry shelf over the weekend.
He estimates that each elementary school in Seminole and Orange counties has about 100 children who need to be fed each week.
Pearlman says that his nonprofit feeds about 300 children each week from both counties.
Over the years, Pearlman has reached out to his list of contacts for special favors.
“I called a warden with the prison system and asked him if it would be possible to have the prisoners make some food packages for our kids.”
Within two days, Pearlman was on his way to the prison to pick up 500 packaged lunches.
“Our mission is simple, right?” Pearlman says. “We’re trying to feed tomorrow’s future, and this is something everyone can get on board with.”
When Pearlman was a UCF student, one of the requirements at the time was to volunteer with a charity. His charity was A Gift for Teaching, where he worked in a warehouse separating books for schools and school supplies based on each school’s different needs.
Pearlman and the rest of his team also visited a local school to determine their needs. The kids said they would really like new baseballs, basketballs and footballs. Pearlman organized a fundraiser for the sporting goods, and now the school is one of the programs that Kick off for Kids services.
When Pearlman, the oldest of three sons, was younger, he and his brothers would play football, and his parents ran a youth football team.
“We never had the newest or shiniest glove because that wasn’t us,” Pearlman recalls. “What we did have was love. We also got to go play with our friends, and my parents would often just quietly help those who were less fortunate.”
Pearlman Urges Others to Pay it Forward
One of the things that keeps Pearlman going is thinking about the possibilities that each child has, and how not having to worry – even for just one night – about where his next meal is coming from could change his life.
“If I could say anything to my fellow Knights,” Pearlman says, “Is that whatever you have a passion for, there is a need out there. If you have the time and the resources, I encourage you put yourself out there and watch how your life will be forever changed.”