John and Alex Mabry were sipping coffee last Tuesday at The Mill, catching up, when he came up with the idea.
A riff on the new Nebraska tourism slogan that had everyone talking. The slogan that’s spawned a thousand tongue-in-cheek knockoffs.
You know it: Nebraska. Honestly, it’s not for everyone.
The dad and his daughter meet every week before heading off to work. John as the development director at the Food Bank of Lincoln; Alex as a graphic designer at Hudl.
At some point in their conversation, the topic of that buzz-creating slogan came up.
“I think I asked him about the campaign and what he thought,” Alex said Monday.
John declared himself a big fan. “I know not everyone feels the same, but I thought it was perfect.”
And since he’s also a big fan of getting food in the hands of people who don’t have enough to eat, he wondered out loud to his daughter about how the Food Bank could ride the coattails of the state’s new motto.
He tweaked it in his head. He changed two words and came up with a different kind of campaign: Hunger. Honestly, it’s not for anyone.
Catchy. And 100 percent accurate.
It seemed like a T-shirt-worthy slogan, too, something that could be a walking reminder of the 227,350 Nebraskans who suffer from food insecurity — a third of them kids.
Before they drained their coffee mugs, Alex offered to help with a design. She sat down at her computer later that day and fiddled with fonts and sent her dad a mockup. Is this what you had in mind?
But then John started having second thoughts.
“My sense of humor is so screwed up, I didn’t know if people would think it was clever or stupid or what.”
So he ran the slogan — and the shirt design — by his wife, Anna, and he ran it by a friend over beers at a brewery and he ran it by a coworker at the Food Bank.
And everyone said: “You gotta do something.”
A few days later, 200 shirts arrived in all sizes and just one color: Husker red.
The Food Bank posted a photo of the still hot-off-the-press T-shirts on its Facebook page and followers lined up in favor of the idea.
One of the nonprofit’s supporters went one step farther: I’ll take a dozen.
Late Monday morning, 100 shirts traveled up the interstate to the Food Bank for the Heartland, where they also thought the shirts were brilliant and awesome.
More shirts are on the way, courtesy of the Forest St. Clothing Co., a local T-shirt design business that turned around the initial order on quick notice.
Thursday, from noon to 4, John will be back at the downtown Mill, where the hunger shirt idea was hatched.
He and the Food Bank crew will have plenty of hunger shirts on hand. And they won’t be charging for them, but they will have a jar for donations. (The cost of each shirt is about $10; anything above that will go to feeding the hungry.)
“The main thing we want to accomplish is to educate people about the need,” John says.
The man behind the motto tipped his hat to his morning coffee date daughter.
“She has so much artistic talent and a really big heart.”
Alex’s dad came to Nebraska 20 years ago, making his living with words at the Journal Star before he headed off to make a difference in the lives of the hungry.
He’s a guy with a big heart, too, and an always clever way with words, who appreciates a good turn of phrase when he hears one.
Like those folks at the Nebraska Tourism Commission whom he called Monday.
No one picked up — perhaps they were out tanking on the Middle Loup River or taking in Toadstool Park or waiting for a perfect sunset somewhere on the prairie.
John left them a message anyway, thanking them for the inspiration.
“We couldn’t have done this without them.”