Feed & Feel Love

An Interview with Ajay Relan| Co-Founder, #HashtagLunchbag | Humanitarian | Entrepreneur | Investor

Portrait: Tom Kubik

With his effortless-cool demeanor and genuine passion to spread love, this LA-raised native, shows us how ‘living through giving’ is where it’s at and how cool it is to be kind.

Ajay co-created #HashtagLunchbag, described as “empowering humanity to create & benefit from organized acts of love”. He is literally feeding people across the world. What initially started as one act of service in making lunches for people in need and passing them out with his group of close friends, #HashtagLunchbag, proved worthy of the hashtag and seemingly took off as fast as the hashtag movement.

What’s your current motto or mantra that you’re living by?

There are so many, but the one that has been resonating a lot with me lately is ‘do whatever you can, wherever you are, with whatever you’ve got’. I’m sure that’s been used. If I didn’t make that up, it’s obviously stuck with me, and of course a lot of great people have said something similar or along the same lines.

For me, it checks a lot of boxes. As a creative person or a business person, you’re constantly trying to figure out how to either create something meaningful or get other people’s buy-in. You’re constantly trying to figure out how you’re going to produce and make something happen. Often times, especially when you’re younger or less experienced, you feel that every effort has to be a homerun. You beat yourself up for not having enough time, experience, money or bandwidth, when in reality, we can all do something. There is always something that you’re able to create, no matter where you are.

There’s a longer quote — it was Mother Theresa [who said it], it goes “We the willing, being led by the unknowing have done the impossible for the ungrateful. We’ve done so much with so little for so long that we’re capable of doing anything with absolutely nothing at all”. That’s a long mantra, but what I’m saying pretty much sums it up.

But, ‘doing whatever you can, wherever you are’ applies to anything — it applies in business and it applies to your personal relationships — if you’re feeling a certain type of way about a family member, a friend, or a lover, there’s always something that you can do. In our mind we feel limited and it’s not until we break free of those limiting thoughts that we’re able to do. The quicker we can break out of that kind of thinking, the quicker we can get to a solution and move on to the next obstacle to overcome.

Where are you from?

I was born in Detroit. I moved to LA before I can remember.

Patrons of Progress is all about celebrating those who are using their influence to do good. What does doing good mean to you?

A lesson I’ve learned on this journey is that when people say there’s no such thing as true altruism they may be right, but I think that that’s okay. As long as you are using your influence and your platform, no matter how big or small it might be, whether it’s just somebody watching how you walk across the street or you have ten million followers on Instagram, doing good has the ability to, when compounded, shift the consciousness of the world. If everybody takes this kind of accountability, imagine how different the situation we’re living in now would be.

If you could choose one word to describe yourself, what would it be and why?

Curious. I just can’t help wanting to know new stuff.

Portrait: Tom Kubik

What sparked your interest and passion to co-create #HashtagLunchbag?

There were two — an internal and an external factor.

Internally, I was going through a major transitional process, and I was prescribed to go out and volunteer as part of my “treatment”. I was told that when you’re feeling down, going to lift someone else up can really help you with whatever you’re going through. That really resonated with me.

Then externally, the opportunity presented itself on Christmas Eve of 2012, when my two friends and cofounders of #HashtagLunchbag, JD McElroy and Will “J Dubb” Smith, had gone to Target and bought a bunch of toys to bring home, wrap and give to the kids at the Children’s Hospital. When we got to the hospital we were told that we wouldn’t be allowed to hand-deliver them to the kids face-to-face. Knowing that the gifts would put some smiles on kids’ faces felt good, but, selfishly, not getting to experience the joy, sucked. It was the next morning when we decided that we could create our own experience.

The rest is kind of history.

We didn’t really set out to create anything beyond that one occurrence, let alone something that would occur monthly in LA and eventually all over the world. When you’re able to recognize the resources that you have, the people who you do influence, and you have something that resonates with them and they want to emulate, you want to go little bit further and be more responsible in order to keep that momentum going.

What do you hope our readers will gain from the #HashtagLunchbag story?

I want them to all watch our rap video cuz it’s awesome. That pretty much sums it up. You should can this whole interview and just play that video.

It really just comes down to “you don’t need a lot to get started”. ‘Living through giving’ really resonates not just in philanthropy and humanitarian work, but just in general. We feel the most alive when we’re in a place of contribution and service, whether it’s in our home, workplace or in our community, and it’s extremely important for people to understand the responsibility. It’s not needing to be a rich philanthropist or a career social worker to dedicate a ton of time, or even all of your time or money, to make a shift.

More than any other point in history, we have the ability to really shift the way that people talk about the issues that have plagued us since the beginning of time. With the right amount of effort and buy-in, our generation really has the power to set the tone, and it’s not too late.

Resources and technology aside, if you could make one remarkable change in the world by 2020, what would it be?

I have this idea, and a lot of it has been sprinkled throughout our conversation, but I would like for the term “pro-activism” to be something that a lot of people are familiar with and live by as a way of life.

With everything that is going on in the world, we’re constantly moving downstream, reacting to horrible things that keep happening. In order for us to get back upstream and have some control over what’s going on, it requires some initiative and pro-activism on our part.

That starts with our daily interactions with people. For every terrible thing that we see in the news, there are also amazing things we will never hear about. I would love for it to be cool to be kind. That is something, hopefully, that people are more inspired to share — all the good that they do, rather than feel that they are bragging.

People are inspired when they see good going on and they get even more inspired when they see how easy it is, how much fun and cool it can be. With all the craziness going on in the world today, our hope is that people are seeing the opportunity to band together and combat this sh** with some love.

What is something that you’ve learned along the way, whether it’s a piece of advice or an experience that has helped guide you in your journey?

What this experience has really taught me, with the #HashtagLunchbag movement especially, is that there’s one thing that all human beings have in common — the desire to be acknowledged and be seen.

Knowing that, and going into any situation, can improve our happiness levels. By acknowledging other people, we are really acknowledging ourselves. The motto of our movement is “Feed & Feel Love,” because when you’re feeding someone else, you’re really feeding yourself. Presence and gratitude oftentimes get lost in all the buzzwords of people wanting to be happy.

We are our best where we are in the moment and grateful for what we have, rather than feeling the scarcity of the things that we want and don’t have.

Portrait: Tom Kubik

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Concept + Production by London Wright-Pegs, Michael Tennant + Meghan Holzhauer // Interview by London Wright-Pegs // Portraits by Tom Kubik