American Food Hero 2019: Lauren Puryear
Who she is: Extreme couponer and founder of For the Love of Others
What shes doing: Helping the hungry, one coupon at a time
A year before her 30th birthday, Lauren Puryear promised herself she would do something special to celebrate the big day. Not the kind of "special" that most people think of when planning for a milestone like this—a blowout dinner party or a trip to somewhere far-flung with friends. Instead, she decided to find a way to feed 300 food-insecure people a healthy, satisfying meal. "I wanted to do something that made a difference," she says. "It's our human duty to help those who cannot help themselves."
There was just one problem. It took her only a few days to fulfill that pledge. So she made a more ambitious one: to up the number to 30,000. By the time her birthday arrived, on September 14, 2017, she had fed twice that many people.
Puryear succeeded by mastering the art of extreme couponing—a skill she'd been honing for years. She collects newspaper inserts, sleuths coupons online and strategically shops sales so that the price of food is drastically reduced or even free. Once she's figured out where the deals are, she stocks up on 1,000 jars of spaghetti sauce or 200 cans of corn.
If the stars align—say, a brand of soup is on sale for 75¢ and she has a 50¢-off coupon that can be doubled—the stores actually owe her money, which she uses to buy items not on sale, like fresh fruits and vegetables. Then she delivers the groceries to drop-off areas near her home in suburban Virginia. "I don't think I'm the most organized person, I'm just very ambitious," says Puryear. "I asked myself, how can I feed people without a lot of money? There are ways, all legal, to make that happen."
Clipping, collecting, storing: the very idea would feel overwhelming to many. But the single mother, who also has a full-time job as a mental health clinician, finds the work energizing. She stashes the food she buys "anywhere and everywhere" in her basement: there are two pantries for nonperishable items, plus a chest freezer and two extra refrigerators.
Feeding people is a calling for Puryear. "God told me to do this," she says. "This is the vision he gave me." In 2018, she topped the 100,000-meal mark. In addition to her charity, For the Love of Others, this spring she opened her own food pantry and expanded her program that provides meals to food-insecure kids in local schools. She also began to travel the country, educating others about the impact couponing can make. Last year, she went to 12 states. Only 38 more to meet the goal of visiting all 50 before her 35th birthday.