For nearly two years, Louisiana brothers Kyllon and Derrell Martin Jr. have made bag lunches for the homeless in New Orleans. Now, they are 9 and 10, respectively, and they have recruited family members to create The Helping Lunch Box Project, which aims to end hunger in their beloved city.
The number of homeless people in the majority Black city was estimated at 6,000 before Hurricane Katrina, according to The Nation. It has been a decade since one of the strongest storms in American history devastated the city and displaced its residents. However, the effects still loom.
New Orleans has a 4 percent homeless rate, which is one of the country’s highest. And Katrina only added to the ever-growing issue. The homeless population doubled, even though the city has launched efforts such as 10-year plan to curb the issue and tackle veterans’ homelessness.
Kristy Lewis Martin spoke with Atlanta Black Star about her sons’ dedication to helping those in need. She revealed that their family was also among the estimated 1.3 million New Orleans residents displaced by Katrina’s wrath.
In fact, the Martins’ eldest son, Derrell Jr., was born four days before the Category 5 storm made landfall. As the waters rose and the storm was downgraded to Category 3, the family evacuated to northern Louisiana.
“[Then] we moved to Alabama in 2006 and returned to New Orleans in 2010,” Martin said. “Kyllon was born in Alabama but raised in New Orleans.”
After resettling in their hometown, the brothers wanted to help their community after seeing so many people in their city go without food. At the time, the then first- and third-graders took matters into their own hands by preparing bag lunches with various foodstuffs.
The first two times they went out to feed the homeless, the brothers visited a group of citizens under a local bridge called the Crescent City Connection.
Kristy Martin and husband Derrell Sr. bought the sandwich supplies, cookies, water and snacks for the lunch bags. The boys’ 13-year-old sister, Hermione, helped design and customize paper bags with inspirational messages. And the brothers and their mom made sandwiches. Everyone pitched in because everyone cared.
Others began to recognize the good these two young men were doing.
Over the course of two years, donations began to pour in from family members. Kyllon and Derrell even recruited their friends to help pass out food.
However, this year was a turning point for their small charity operation.
The Helping Lunch Box Project was featured in a local news profile for New Orleans’ WDSU on June 13. That profile made its way to Now This News, and their incredible story went viral. But the biggest development was an unexpected partnership with the New Orleans-based non-profit B.O.S.S. Youth Outreach Program.
One of the organization’s representatives discovered the Helping Lunch Box when they were passing out lunch to the needy earlier this month.
“This is their baby, their project, and we just came on board to help them grow it,” B.O.S.S. Youth Outreach co-founder Albert Jones Jr. told WDSU. “And it’s wonderful and refreshing to be so passionate about making a difference and making a change by simply just making lunch bags.”
The partnership is already showing great results. Initially, the charity could serve only 50 people one day out of the month. Now, they can serve 140 people in two days. The B.O.S.S. Youth Outreach plans to get the brothers more donations, volunteers and a street team to help with food distribution. (Their father, Derrell Sr., is also associated with B.O.S.S.)
“They are also mentoring the boys and teaching how to create and market their brand,” Kristy Martin explained.
Since the viral video, the brothers’ charitable spirit has inspired a man to reconnect with his family. They have also inspired volunteers who want to donate food to those in need. One woman was driving by when the boys were out and decided to donate leftover food to their cause.
“As their parent, I am glad that at such a young age they understand that there are people out here that actually need help,” Kristy Martin praised. “To see them being so selfless — taking time out of their day when they could be playing with their friends or playing video games — they encourage me to want to do better. So it makes me and dad feel like we have done something right to have such humble kids that think of others first.”
The brothers told ABS that they plan to continue their charity for as long as they can. In addition, they will cement a partnership with Mount Pilgrim Baptist church to increase their food donations when the new school year begins.