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Heroes Of The COVID Crisis: How Derek Evans and Project 615 Helped Provide Meals To Those Suffering Food Insecurity During The Pandemic

When you bring a “work that matters” attitude into your life, it gives you the motivation to not only get out of bed and go to work, but it gives you purpose. When we all have that purpose in our professional lives, it leaves the world a better place and leaves an impact on people that will outlive our work.

As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Evans.

Derek Evans is CEO and co-founder of Project 615. In 2010, he launched his apparel company to do “work that matters” and utilize that platform to help change the world. Derek has helped hire fifty-four people recovering from homelessness, built an orphanage in Uganda, and raised over half a million dollars for various world-changing non-profit organizations. He lives with his wife in Nashville, TN.

Launched in 2010, Project 615 is an apparel company that does work that matters. From the 2016 wildfires in Gatlinburg to the recent tornadoes in Nashville, the iconic t-shirt company has always put community first. When its “Spread Love, It’s the Nashville Way” grassroots campaign to raise money for people recovering from homelessness and addiction caught the attention of celebrities like Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Carrie Underwood, the company went viral and ignited a global movement to end homelessness, child hunger, and human trafficking. Founded as a mission-minded business that would change the world one t-shirt at a time, over the last decade the company has hired nearly 60 people recovering from homelessness, helped build an orphanage in Uganda, and donated more than half a million dollars for various world-changing nonprofit organizations.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

I grew up in the heart of Indianapolis, IN. My dad was a blue-collar worker and my mom was a secretary. They taught me hard work at an early age and always encouraged me to reach for more.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Soul Keeping by John Ortberg. Being a business owner and an entrepreneur, we must be obsessed with taking care of our soul and to rest. This book always centers me and encourages me to eliminate hurry.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Always add value to others. I believe we should always have a “work that matters” attitude in our professional life. Since we spend the majority of our lives working, I believe that outlook gives us a sense of purpose in our work. If you’re a financial planner, a janitor, or a professional athlete, having that sense of purpose adds value to others.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

Since 2010, we have been serving others and creating products that advocate for world-changing causes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was instinctual to step up and help those affected. It’s in the fabric of who we are as a company to help others. We wanted to support frontline workers and quickly launched a campaign that led to the donation of more than 12,000 masks. We also donated portions of sales to restaurant workers and local musicians. With Nashville being Music City, it was important for us to help our neighbors in the music industry. Lastly, we were able to provide over 25,000 meals to those suffering from food insecurity during the pandemic. These are some of the big concerns in our community that we were able to address.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

Someone who is selfless and courageous, who sticks up for the underdog, stands up for what is right, and who thinks of others more than themselves.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Being a voice for the voiceless. A hero speaks and stands up for what is right; most recently, for equality.

2. Selfless. A hero lives their life serving other people.

3. An advocate for the underdog. Heroes advocate for the underdogs but aren’t concerned with needing to share or post about it.

4. Brave. Heroes have the courage to take risks, go against the grain and challenge the norm.

5. Action. Heroes take action. When they see an opportunity to contribute goodness to the world and help those struggling or suffering, they don’t back away. They take action.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

We all have experienced difficult things in our lives, but we all have ‘it’ inside of us — the ability to become a hero. Every day we’re given an opportunity to be heroes for our families, our neighbors, strangers, and our coworkers. I believe that there are many opportunities day to day to be a hero.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

In 2010, my business partner and I were on a trip in Los Angeles to help feed the homeless on Skid Row. We were heartbroken from seeing thousands of people suffer. We knew it was time to insert a life calling and align that to a business. So we brought that desire back with us when we returned to Nashville a week later. We wanted to bring about change in the Nashville community by giving people second chances and hope, starting with the homeless population. From the day Project 615 was born, we made a conscious decision to make a difference and change the world. Anytime something happens in our community, our state, our country, or around the world, we want to be a platform that does good. We want to be a platform to help others and step in when needed.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

My grandfather, Robert Lunn, is my all-time hero. He was homeless as a teenager, a Korean War veteran, and spent many years working as a janitor. One of the things I love about him was that he was able to overcome so much adversity in his life, and he always had joy despite what he’d endured in his life. He always made people smile, he stood up against racism, he fought for his family and his country, and he was a big inspiration for me.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

What has frightened me about the pandemic is the idea that it’s distancing us as people. We can’t hug, we can’t shake hands, we can’t be close to one another. As someone who values human interaction and being social, I’m fearful that we will be forced to continue to distance ourselves from one another. I’m fearful I won’t be able to spend time with my family and loved ones, as well as get to know others.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

I believe adversity is a gift. Any time something bad happens in our lives, I believe good follows adversity and I believe our world will become a better place.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

Seeing people come together, be creative and innovative in socializing, helping others, and communicating — through Facetime for example. We’ve been able to stay in touch more than ever and that has given me inspiration. The thing I find most disappointing is confusion and lack of communication on what the right and wrong thing to do is from a health perspective.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

I think it’s a great opportunity for us all to have a reset in our lives. I know that the world was becoming busier and never really resting prior to the pandemic. We were always on the go and this has slowed us down, allowed us to get our priorities in check, and focus on being present.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

I think more people will remember to focus on being present, focus on their friends, and focus on their families. Many of us have gone months without seeing people we love and this is going to inspire us to be intentional with our relationships.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

When you bring a “work that matters” attitude into your life, it gives you the motivation to not only get out of bed and go to work, but it gives you purpose. When we all have that purpose in our professional lives, it leaves the world a better place and leaves an impact on people that will outlive our work.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would start a movement to create more educational opportunities in third world countries that would focus on teaching people how to start small businesses. These opportunities can change their economic futures and make their communities and countries a better place.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Hands-down, Jay-Z. I’ve followed his music throughout my life. I appreciate his story; where he came from and how he’s been able to grow as a businessman, stay relevant, and continue to grow his career. I feel like I’ve grown up with him.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow us at @Project615 on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!



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