When Virginia teen Eric “Bean” McKay scored a lifetime supply of peanut butter, he decided to help spread the love to those in need

By Susan Keating
January 24, 2019 11:13 AM
Tracy McKay

When Virginia teen Eric “Bean” McKay scored a lifetime supply of peanut butter, he decided to help spread the love to people in need: the employees stranded without pay in a historic shutdown of the federal government.

Fifteen-year-old Bean, who has autism and eats peanut butter for all his meals, has established a local pop-up distribution center to periodically give free jars of his favorite food to furloughed workers.

“He’s such a great kid,” mom Tracy McKay tells PEOPLE. “He doesn’t want people to go without. He really wants to help.”

The family knows what the shutdown can do: Bean’s dad is among the approximately 800,000 federal employees affected during the funding freeze, which is now in its 34th day with another round of paychecks scheduled not to go out on Friday.

“It’s been a rough month for us with four teens,” Tracy says. “We’re still trying to live off the last December paycheck. But Bean said we have a lot of food, what with all this peanut butter. He said we should share it.”

The give-away effort unfolded gradually from an incident last October, when the McKay family ran critically low on peanut butter.

In many families, this probably would not be an issue. But the jar-count is so important to Bean, who eats half a container per day, that he writes their numbers on the lids.

“This is part of his autism,” his mom explains. “He has a very narrow self-selected diet, with texture and olfactory issues.”

His daily menu consists of six English muffins topped with peanut butter and jelly. The family has consulted medical professionals, who say that even though the diet is not ideal, it’s not terrible.

Bean likes the store-branded peanut butter sold at his local Lidl grocery store near his hometown of Woodbridge. With his family almost out in October, Bean tweeted to the chain directly.

Eric “Bean” McKay
Tracy McKay

“Dear @LidlUS,” he wrote. “My name is Bean. I eat peanut butter and jelly English muffins for three meals a day. Back in February, my mom bought 72 jars of your peanut butter when it was on sale for 78 cents a jar. I numbered each jar.”

“I’m now on Jar #72,” he continued in another tweet. “My mom says it’s time for you to have another peanut butter sale. Thanks for your help. Bean.”

Tracy says now: “We didn’t expect it to go anywhere.”

But the company responded — and then some: They sent 72 jars of peanut butter in exchange for 72 retweets. Lidl then issued a challenge: a lifetime supply of Bean’s dietary staple in exchange for 72,000 retweets.

“We just laughed,” Tracy says. “It just sort of plugged along. He was stuck at 42,000 retweets for awhile. Then a British author, Neil Gaiman, retweeted him, and it bumped him over the edge.”

The company made good on its promise.

“We’ve been rooting for him,” says Lidl spokesman Will Harwood.

On Wednesday afternoon, the McKays brought a pallet of peanut butter to a Lidl store in Dumfries where Bean — in his standard outfit of tie-dyed shirt and pants — gave away his winnings.

“Anybody not getting paid can have three jars,” Tracy says.

“It’s me. (It’s weird),” tweeted Bean, who did not want to speak to a reporter. “Come share my peanut butter!”

“He’s a good kid,” his mom says. “He’s helping people in a real way. I’m so proud of my kid.”