Less than two weeks ago, Neil Grimmer, the co-founder, CEO and “Chief Dad” at Plum Organics, had never heard of Harlan Sullins, a 3-year-old boy from Catawba.
But now, Grimmer and his California-based organic children’s food company are doing all they can to “be a small ray of sunshine in a very dark moment” for Harlan and his family.
Harlan has been battling a rare form of brain cancer since he was two, one that he is not expected to survive. Plum Organics used to make his favorite snack, a raspberry oatmeal blend in a pouch. The San Francisco-area company discontinued the product six months ago, Grimmer said, and when Jacki Sullins, Harlan’s mother, started to run out of her son’s stash, she took to social media to ask for help.
Hundreds of people across the country started searching in every store they could for the pouches, and a friend of the Sullins family reached out to Plum.
“Once we heard the search for some of these products was on, we sent a note to our entire network of retailers,” Grimmer said.
A few stores in California told Plum they still had stock, and Plum employees got in their cars to go pick up the products and send them overnight to Harlan, Grimmer said.
Meanwhile, other people across the country started shipping pouches they found to Harlan.
“Harlan just grins ear to ear seeing the oatmeal arrive,” Sullins said. “A few times, he’s said to me, ‘My oatmeal! For me!’ as he points to himself.”
Harlan’s love of the raspberry swirl oatmeal started when he was in chemotherapy and it was the only thing he could keep down, Sullins said. It became his go-to snack. During radiation treatments, it wasn’t unusual for him to eat four to eight pouches every day.
Helping customers and catering to children and their needs is what Plum is all about, said Grimmer, who was touched by Harlan’s story as a father and as a man whose wife battled cancer last year.
“Really, early on, my team said they wanted to fill the immediate need, but we were also brainstorming how we could produce some more of this for Harlan,” he said.
They contacted one of their production locations, which agreed immediately to do a special run of the raspberry swirl oatmeal, which they’re renaming “Harlan’s Oatmeal.” The designers stepped up and said they wanted to put “Harlan the Hero,” as he’s known online, and his picture on a special label.
At no charge to the family, about 5,000 pouches of Harlan’s oatmeal will be on its way to South Carolina in three to four weeks, Grimmer said.
Harlan’s parents wanted to share the story of his battle with cancer, Sullins said, but now everyone is doing it for them, and over something as small as oatmeal.
“That’s a very powerful and beautiful thing,” Sullins said. “The world is learning not only about our Harlan, but about childhood cancer and that it does exist.”
Actions like this are what all brands should be doing, Grimmer said. At a staff meeting Monday morning, he told the Plum team about why actions like this matter.
“These moments are reminders for why we are in business,” he said.
And for the Sullins family, they are reminders of the goodness that exists in people in the face of enormous sadness.
“When everything seems dark and lost, this unexpected ray of light lets you know that this is one less thing to worry about, that people are going to get us all through this,” Sullins said.