September 19, 2011 12:00 PM

GABRIEL WHALEY, 21

Midland, N.C.

A senior at the University of North Carolina, Whaley founded Kicking4Hunger (kickingforhunger.org), soccer camps that offer kids free instruction in exchange for food donation. Since 2006, thanks to Whaley’s efforts, 16,624 lbs. of canned goods have gone to local food banks.

TOUGH START: We lived in a trailer until I was 6. My dad [a radiology engineer] and mom were struggling to make ends meet.

FINDING HIS FEET: The first soccer camp I went to was through my Christian school. With shin guards and cleats, it was going to cost close to $100, so I ended up borrowing my dad’s old socks. One day the ball ended up at my feet; I pushed past the other player and ran down the field with it. I was like, “Wow!”

A NEW WAY TO HELP: I was on my high school team. [I remembered] walking around and there were all these homeless people. And I thought, “What if we did a food drive, but in a creative way?” Some friends and I came up with this camp model. My brother and mom and dad stepped up-that was incredible.

CHANGING LIVES: Demands on food banks have soared in Cabarrus County, N.C., in recent years after mass layoffs at one employer and a plant closing, says Ed Hosack of Cooperative Christian Ministry. “Gabe’s feeding hungry families, and he’s created a great outlet for kids,” he says. “He’s wonderful.”

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