“Think about how many Albert Einsteins, Bill Gateses or Steve Jobses are lost in our system because they weren’t given the food they needed,” said Dr. Larry Moray, ’90 (D.D.S.), ’97 (M.S.), president of MyOrthodontist.
Food insecurity is a significant problem in North Carolina, including within the Chapel Hill area, affecting 15% of Orange County’s population according to Feed America. Dr. Moray’s wife, Jin Yi Kwon B.S. ’95, ’00 (M.P.H.), ’07 (D.D.S.), became passionate about addressing food insecurity several years ago, seeking out and discussing ways to tackle the issue. In 2016, the couple took action and established The Happy Tooth Foundation, a nonprofit with a mission to help underserved youth build self-esteem through healthy living, teamwork and sports.
“The Happy Tooth Foundation is devoted to service, realizing that there are huge inequities in our society, and doing as much as we can to level the playing field and give more people access to the kinds of services they deserve,” said Dr. Moray. “We originally focused on younger kids, and formed the foundation with an idea my brother-in-law had to address food insecurity by running a summer camp that would give kids a great home-cooked breakfast, lunch and snacks.”
In 2017, the foundation launched the “Yes, I Can!” summer camp, which served nine youth with the goal of empowerment through sports. While some resources were provided by local businesses and organizations such as Panera, TABLE and Fleet Feet, most of the camp was run entirely by members of the foundation and their network of community members. Camp activities included swimming, biking and running, and attendees competed in a local youth triathlon at the end of the summer.
Given the level of success and impact in its first year, the camp was expanded in 2018 to broaden the range of activities and increase the number of children it could serve. Chapel Hill community members donated their time to teach classes, such as Taekwondo, music and cooking, providing participants with a unique and enriching way to fill their summers.
However, with the limitations of the pandemic and the cost of improvements, Dr. Moray and the foundation determined that the summer camp was no longer the best way to target populations in need. They decided that giving to initiatives at UNC-Chapel Hill was a great way to move forward.
In spring 2021, The Happy Tooth Foundation donated $150,000 to establish The Happy Tooth Foundation Funds for Food Security. Of the $150,000 gift, $10,000 will support current initiatives working to end food insecurity across campus. The remaining $140,000 will be used to establish an endowment to benefit initiatives that address food insecurity in perpetuity.
“Through our immediate $10,000 gift, our short-term goal is simply to be able to have an impact as soon as possible and to get the word out about this issue,” said Dr. Moray. “The endowment’s purpose is really legacy. I hope we continue to raise money so the endowment can grow over time and increase the number of students it can serve.”
With more than 20% of college students facing food insecurity, supporting initiatives, such as the Carolina Cupboard, an on-campus food pantry that provides food at no cost to students, is more important than ever.
“The cycle of food insecurity is often continuous and goes back generations,” said Dr. Moray. “The students who are able to matriculate at Carolina are incredibly focused and directed and are breaking out of that cycle. If they don’t have the nutrition they need to stay focused in that academic setting, they are not going to succeed. You can’t realize your full potential if you don’t have basic necessities.”
Amy Johnson, vice chancellor for student affairs at Carolina, agreed with this sentiment.
“Food insecurity among college students is a growing national concern that affects students in our own campus community,” said Johnson. “The generous gift from The Happy Tooth Foundation to the Carolina Cupboard and other food assistance programs will help us support our students in need, so they can succeed in achieving their educational goals. We’re incredibly grateful to The Happy Tooth Foundation.”
As alumni, giving to Carolina is especially meaningful for Dr. Moray and his wife.
“We are blessed to have graduated from Carolina,” said Dr. Moray. “As graduates from Carolina, we have a responsibility to ensure that our alma mater is taken care of and that other students who attend Carolina have the same advantages that we had. What you put back into your alma mater gets paid forward. That’s what we hope to do with this endowment: Pay it forward.”
Paying it forward is particularly impactful during these unprecedented times.
“The pandemic has exacerbated the problem for a lot of people,” said Dr. Moray. “There are more people out of work, so there is a higher percentage of people who have become food insecure.”
Specifically, Dr. Moray feels that the absence of in-person learning environments has limited the ability of students to gain access to free and reduced lunch opportunities, exacerbating the problem of food insecurity across communities.
The gift made by The Happy Tooth Foundation offers more than financial support — it also represents the importance of recognizing the needs of your community, Dr. Moray emphasized. During times of public health crises, economic hardships and social unrest, listening to the members of your local, state and national community is crucial.
“There are a lot of inequities in our country. We owe our fellow humans the dignity of having access to food, housing, health care and education. These are not privileges but rights. We have a moral and ethical responsibility to see that everyone has them.”
By following in The Happy Tooth Foundation’s footsteps and giving to initiatives at Carolina that address food insecurity, such as the Carolina Cupboard, you, too, can play a role in ensuring that gifted, driven and intelligent students in your community have the nutrition they need to succeed.
First published by UNC-Chapel Hill