Inspired? Let me know below. Or ask questions to Hello Somebody’s James Lee at the end of this article in the comments section.
The marketing scene, by nature, is loud.
I’ve stood in conference, festival, and trade show exhibit halls all over the world, each booth spilling over with t-shirts, bracelets, stickers, signage, and video loops trying to grab each passerby with the value of their message.
For many years, Christian vendors won my “Oh My Gosh That’s So Tacky Award” hand-over-fist. Yes, even some booths today still scream 1991 and need to hire a designer as badly as Fab & Rob of Milli Vanilli needed to hire a vocal coach. (Or just never perform again). But every now and then someone sticks out. Original? Perhaps. Trendy? Occasionally. But in the slew of typographically driven t-shirts that create merch-row at an event like Creation Festival, you need more than that.
You need powerful.
So I’ll admit it. When I was hanging with Sean McDonald backstage, I dug his tank top. I didn’t ask where it was from, just thought it was unique and cool. Later that afternoon while perusing through the exhibit hall before my speaking session, Joseph (aka “the bodyguard”) said, “Hey, isn’t that the shirt Shawn was wearing?” Heck yeah it was!
Knowing Shawn wouldn’t just wear something for the sake of it, we threw aside a bunch of tweenies all clumped around the Hello Somebody table. Joseph punched a kid in the mouth; I body slammed two 13 year olds.
No. Not really. We waited our turn.
The table wasn’t ostentatious, and lacked much of the “pizazz” that other vendors had. Just a simple backdrop. A few cool shirts. And a table full of way-cool watches. Correction: must-have watches.
“So, what are you guys?” I asked the guy behind the table.
“We feed kids with whatever you buy,” said James Lee, Hello Somebody’s volunteer organization and events director. “We don’t keep a penny, we just send it on.”
I looked at him. “Really?”
He gave more of his schtick while Joseph and I fondled the many-colored watches. I wanted one. He wanted one, too. Soon we were battling over which colors we wanted (both liking the same white band with white face – which – I’ll have you know, I ended up with).
“Those are $15,” Christian said, James’ wife. She was totally helpful and fun, explaining the costs of the shirts, hoodies, etc.
But I had to ask, “What the heck. All your stuff looks so hot. You’re a non-profit?”
“Yeah,” said James. “We’re based in Texas out of Gateway Church, and we have a passion of feeding people. It’s what we do.” The more he talked, the more I wanted to buy stuff to help feed kids. I got Shawn’s tank top, then I got a hoodie, a sticker, 2 watches, and handed over my cash.
Then James dropped a line that ruined me. “Thanks man, you just fed 400 children.”
Excuse me? No, pretty sure I just bought some stuff I thought looked hip. 400 kids? Are you kidding me?
When was the last time you bought anything knowing every penny went to helping people directly? Is that your Best Buy experience? Is that where your $13.50 for your last 3D movie ticket goes? In that singular moment I realized that so much of my buying revolves entirely around me; yet in that moment, James duped me. Up until then, it was still about me. The watch. Shawn’s tank. The hoodie. But James made it about them. 400 kids who just got a meal from a crazy bald white guy from NY.
I. Was. Sold.
I was so jaw-droppingly messed up I led off with my Hello Somebody experience at my speaking session that day. I was also so messed up that I stalked James via text and voice mail this whole week just to snag 15-minutes of his time for an interview for my amazing readers.
ch: “So how’d all this Hello Somebody business start?”
jl: “A guy named Ben Pirtel, who’s the Senior Youth Pastor of Gateway Church in Southlake, TX (Kari Jobe’s church for those interested), was in Honduras on a missions trip. During the messages, the chaplains kept saying, ‘Hello Somebody, can I get a witness? Will you answer the call?’ After that trip Ben kept getting dreams and visions to feed 1 million people. After 1 year he contacted Manny Martinez, also a member of Gateway. Ben shared his heart, and Manny wanted to invest and start something. The name Hello Somebody stuck. 6 months later they contacted me to help with organization and promotions. Christian [his wife] and I said yes. And here we are.”
ch: “Cool story. Love the name, too. Everything you guys do is not only stylish (thanks to your awesome in-house designer), but has a worthy mission. What nations are you guys currently working in?”
jl: “Our first drop was actually in Haiti last year; we were able to give over 50,000 meals there. Then there’s Pakistan, Honoduras, and Mexico. We also do diaster relief in Japan. Right after the earthquake and tsunami we sent over $90,000 of resources to Hokashima within the first week. Our trucks were able to bring supplies within 35 miles of ground zero.”
ch: “Incredible. So how are all those kinds of contacts made?”
jl: “We actually connect and interface with churches first. Being apart of a large Body like Gateway Church affords us that. Yet we also maintain an open eye as an independent organization. Orphan Secure in Mexico and South America is another organization we work together with.”
ch: “Man, I really like that you see the Church as your main point of connection in the world. I think God blesses us when we honor of his invention of the Bride of Christ and not dismiss her, even in our non-profit pursuits.”
jl: “Yeah, a lot of organizations don’t get us. ‘How are you doing all you’re able to do?’ they ask. Honestly, God’s just blessing it. We don’t even know why all the time.”
ch: “So now that you’ve had a few days to regroup from Creation, how successful was having a booth there?”
jl: “We were able to feed 70,000 kids from everything raised at Creation.”
ch: “70,000? Are you kidding? That’s huge!”
jl: “Yeah, it was a real blessing. In fact, we just celebrated our 1 year anniversary as a ministry last week, and we reached our first goal of feeding 1 million children in just 10 months.”
ch: “And for the whole year?”
jl: “1.2 million. We just tweeted a 2 minute recap video with Ryan Edgar if your readers want to see it.”
ch: “Oh, they do!” (It’s a great video, too).
Here’s a quick recap video of our 1st year as an organization. Let’s continue to dream big together! Will you help us? http://hs.cta.gs/004
ch: “So Joseph, the guy you met with me, lived in China as a missionary for a while. When he saw the ‘Made in China,’ sticker on the back of his watch, he couldn’t help but wonder if we were supporting one ministry of feeding kids at the expenses of enslaving other kids in sweatshops.”
jl: “I’m proud to say Hello Somebody is sweat 100% sweatshop free. In fact, at the Chinese new year we took a big hit. Because all legit factories close down for up to six weeks, and all the adult employees are on vacation, we had no inventory. And we were based solely on watch sales at that time. We also use Alternative Apparel which is not as risque as American Apparel for our Christian events; but we’re not opposed to using American Apparel when we set up in non-Christian scenes, like the Warped Tour. We’re trying to reach Christians and non-Christians alike, as all people are called to eliminate hunger, not just Believers.”
ch: “Love the mission and your hearts. So, if I could ask anything of my readers, what would you want?”
jl: “We just want people to join the movement. We don’t need much, we just need to feed kids. We try not to delay on our response to the Lord; when God says something we try and act quick. God blesses quick actions and people see that, too.”
ch: “Well, James, I have to say, the most profound thing that happened to me at your Creation table was when you handed me my merch and said, ‘You just fed 400 kids.’ It’s like you’ve created a new monetary system or something!”
jl: “My wife and I just started that a few weeks ago. We wanted to do quick math, and communicate the impact people were having through every conversation. Our ministry’s motto is ‘Relationship Before Opportunity,’ and saying it like that helps connect people more deeply.”
ch: “Well, you got me. Thanks, bro.”
jl: “Anytime, Christopher. Great meeting you.”
If you’re inspired, please leave a comment below. And if you have any questions of your own, post them and we’ll get James to answer them.
Follow James Lee on Twitter: @JLee1611