Girl, 13, Who Started Food Pantry After Mom's Stroke Gets Surprise to Help Even More People
Mackenzie “Kenzie” Hinson can’t help but remember her mother struggling to put food on the table after suffering a stroke that left her paralyzed for six months — but the ambitious child was more inspired than discouraged by her family’s nightmare.
At just 10 years old, Hinson decided to start the Make a Difference Food Pantry in Mount Olive, North Carolina, her own type of grocery store where families in surrounding communities can get the quality food they need with dignity, no questions asked.
“Anybody that comes to my door, we feed them and we serve them — and we have a good ole’ time!” Hinson, now 13, shares in PEOPLE’s exclusive clip of Returning the Favor.
The Mike Rowe-hosted Facebook Watch show, now in its second season, identifies people making positive changes in their communities, and finds ways to empower them for the future.
“I’ve always relied on viewers to program my career. It started with Dirty Jobs, and never really stopped,” Rowe tells PEOPLE, referring to his former series on the Discovery Channel. “Returning the Favor, however, has taken viewer participation to a whole new level. Every person we feature on the show is now the result of a nomination submitted by a viewer.”
The nomination process starts on social media, where everyday folks in The Returning the Favor Effect Facebook group can give shout-outs to do-gooders like Hinson — the honoree in the next episode, launching Tuesday at 9 p.m. PT on Facebook Watch — to appear on the show and get a surprise that elevates their philanthropic efforts. For Hinson, that means getting to feed as many people as she possibly can.
“We do about 7,000 people monthly,” Hinson says of her work at the Make a Difference Food Pantry. “This April will be four years that we’ve been open.”
Hinson was moved to help families in need after her own faced a heartbreaking reality. “When I was six, my mom had a stroke and she was paralyzed on her entire left side for six months,” she says in PEOPLE’s exclusive preview. “We didn’t really know how we were going to make ends meet. It was emotional for our family and we actually had to have help.”
Looking back on those hard times, Hinson recalls the impact giving people had on her life. “Strangers did so much for us, and we always wanted to repay it,” she says, “and it just kinda grew into what it is now.”
The Make a Difference Food Pantry is poised for a growth spurt thanks to Rowe’s Returning the Favor, which in Monday’s episode surprises Hinson with a major improvement to the pantry that enables Hinson to feed even more people.
“The connection between the honorees and the fans of the show is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on typical TV shows,” Rowe tells PEOPLE of future episodes, “and this season proves it.”
Part of what makes Returning the Favor magical for Rowe and the show’s team is seeing a triumph get mentioned on social media and then become an entire episode watched by millions. The show’s page is now followed by more than 1.5 million people on Facebook, and according to producers, seasons 1 and 2 collectively have more than 230 million views.
“The totally unique thing about the show Returning the Favor is that the stories — like Kenzie and her food pantry — are nominated by the thriving and inspirational community on Facebook,” says Michael Rourke, CEO of Hudsun Media and the program’s executive producer. “This show is truly for the community by the community, and you can’t do that on TV.”