Little People's participant creates 'Eat and Treat' idea to battle hunger

Jack Hilgenberg, 14, of Sioux Falls, S.D. reacts to his tee shot Monday at Westview Golf Course during the practice round for Little Peoples Golf. The first round of competition will be on Tuesday. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 18, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Jun. 18, 2019 1:13 am

QUINCY -- Max Hilgenberg's idea turned into Jack Hilgenberg's mission.

Five years ago, when Max was celebrating his eighth birthday, he asked his friends to bring canned goods to his birthday party instead of presents. The Hilgenberg family collected all of the nonperishable items and delivered them to a food pantry in their hometown of Sioux Falls, S.D.

It's there where life's lessons took hold.

"I remember asking my parents, 'Why can't they go get this stuff at Target or Wal-Mart or something like that?'" said 14-year-old Jack Hilgenberg, who was just 10 when he went with his family to the main entrance of the food pantry instead of the donation drop-off door. "They told us some people don't have enough money for food. I realized that wasn't fair. So I tried to see what I could do in my community to help with that problem."

That's how "Eat and Treat" was born.

Hilgenberg and his friends collect canned goods instead of candy on Halloween and donate them to local charities. In 2014, Hilgenberg wrote a letter explaining his idea and delivered it to homes throughout his neighborhood. On Halloween, friends and neighbors either had cans ready to give at the door or left canned goods on their porch.

His initial goal was 100 pounds of food. By the end of the night, they had collected more than 200 pounds.

"The first year it was kind of hard for people to understand a kid didn't want candy," Hilgenberg said. "The next couple of years, they began to realize, 'Dang, this is pretty cool.' I started asking some of my friends elementary school to do, and they joined in."

As many as nine of Hilgenberg's friends have taken part in the annual Halloween food collection.

"They were kind of in the same boat as me," Hilgenberg said. "It was like, 'Candy, whatever.' A couple of meals of food for these people can go a long way."

After five years, the number of meals "Eat and Treat" is providing is adding up. Hilgenberg's group has collected enough canned goods to provide at least one meal for more than 2,600 people in the Sioux Falls community.

His inspiration and commitment earned Hilgenberg the John Howerton Spirit of Giving Award, which he received Monday night during the Pepsi Little People's Golf Championships family picnic at the Knights of Columbus.

"It's really an honor to be receiving this award," Hilgenberg said. "It's special."

Hilgenberg is in his first year playing in the LPGC and is one of 18 players from the Todd Kulb Academy in Sioux Falls attending this year's 46th annual event. And he's confident he can have success on Westview Golf Course's lush fairways.

"I think I can contend," Hilgenberg said. "I'm playing pretty well."

His impact on the Sioux Falls community and those around him is better than that. It's championship level.

In fact, one of his friends continues to trick or treat at Halloween, but he takes all of the candy he receives and donates it to a local hospital for young cancer patients who cannot do it themselves.

"That's kind of cool," Hilgenberg said. "I like that."

He hopes to continue finding ways to make his community better.

"It's cool to do because it's the right thing to do," Hilgenberg said. "Sometimes doing the right thing is something you don't want to do but you know you should do. It really felt like this is something I should do."