Mich. man starts T-shirt company to combat poverty

Sarah Lambert

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) — Kevin Hershock went to classes, played football and spent time with his friends. He was just a student — until, one morning, he decided to change the world.

Hershock, 21, a Marshall High School graduate, founded Be A Number on a September morning around 2 a.m. He was sitting in his room trying to decide what to do with his life, and he slowly hatched a plan to help himself and the world’s children.

“You don’t have to have some life-changing experience in order to change someone’s life,” Hershock, a senior at Hillsdale College, said. “I think it’s kind of encouraging, because pretty much anyone could think of something like that.”

That night, Hershock designed a T-shirt with a simple logo on the front and back. He decided that each shirt would have an order number on it, and that a second shirt with a corresponding number would go to an impoverished child somewhere in the world.

Hershock’s company was inspired by TOMS Shoes, a company that pledges that for every pair of shoes a customer buys, a child in need gets a pair.

Be A Number’s name comes from a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

People try to avoid being just a number, Hershock said. They try to stand out. But in this case, being a number is just enough to spark a change in the world.

In the six months since he scribbled down the logo designs, Hershock already has sold 500 shirts at $20 a piece, he said.

The first batch of matching shirts, with the order numbers one to 250, will go to needy children this weekend, Hershock said. Hershock’s first drop-off will be Saturday. He and his friend Elizabeth Bonner are driving the shirts to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Forty-nine percent of people living in Pine Ridge were below the poverty level in 2000 and the median household income there in 1999 was $20,170, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. The median household income in the United States in that period was $50,046.

“I started doing a little investigating and I found out that a couple of my friends had actually been out there, and it’s as bad as it sounds,” Hershock said.

One student who had been there actually started crying just talking about what he had seen, Hershock said.

“I’m a pretty emotional person, so I hope I can hold myself together when I get there,” he said.

Pine Ridge will be the first of many world destinations for drop-offs, he said. Among anticipated destinations are Honduras, Haiti, Panama, Chile, Turkey and Africa.

Hershock also is working to start a charity that allows people to directly donate to the children with the same numbered shirts.

“It’s a way for people to look at their numbers as a little piece of the world that they could change at any minute,” he said.

When he graduates next year, Hershock will have time to expand his business, he said.

“It’s been really successful, and I can only imagine what its going to be like when I can fully devote my time and effort into this.”