Tom and Rachael Sullivan's story went viral earlier this year when Rachael, a flight attendant, discovered Tom had been keeping a secret Instagram account where he chronicled recipes he cooked for her to help regulate her hormones after she was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome.
That Instagram account, @MealsSheEats, is, obviously, no longer a secret. And Tom's more than 70,000 followers now have a front-row seat to a new passion in the Sullivans' lives: cooking free, whole-foods-based meals to the college students near their home in Raleigh, North Carolina.
This week, the Sullivans welcomed 30 college students into their home, serving up a meal that consisted of 30 pounds of pulled pork, 38 pounds of smoked chicken and 15 pounds of herb smashed potatoes, along with asparagus and summer squash donated by a local farm.
But the Sullivans foray into feeding college student started with one person, Kevin Gallagher, affectionately called "College Kid Kevin" on both Tom's Instagram account and Rachael's TikTok.
Rachael says, in college, she was "adopted" by family friends, who hosted her for holidays and dinners throughout her college experience, an experience that led her to reconnecting with Gallagher later in life.
"I really got to know a lot of their friends and neighbors through that, and when we moved to North Carolina last year we found out one of those neighbors' sons was going to NC State," Rachael told TODAY Food. "That turned out to be College Kid Kevin.”
Tom says he recognized Gallagher while running errands in town one day. After approaching him and introducing himself, the two struck up a friendship, bonding over talks of workouts and nutrition. Later, on a night when Tom had cooked too much food for dinner, he texted Gallagher to offer him a free meal.
"That turned into every time I cooked, I'd shoot him a text and say, 'We're having this tonight if it fits your macros or whatever program you’re doing,'" said Tom. "He would come and grab it to go, and each time, he stayed a little longer. By the end, we were learning about his classes and college life."
Gallagher began bringing his roommates to the Sullivans for meals. And, as Rachael shared about the unlikely friendship on social media, more college kids wanted in.
"The comment section was just all of these kids commenting, 'Can I be adopted? Will somebody adopt me?' And we wondered, 'Should we host a dinner and invite more people?'" Rachael explained. "And so we did, and we grew it from there on Tom's Instagram. We'd say, 'We're hosting a dinner. DM us if you live in the area.'"
The Sullivans' followers wanted to help, so the couple started a GoFundMe where supporters have donated over $2,500 to help cover grocery costs.
Today, the Sullivans have over 120 college students in the Raleigh area signed up for text and email blasts whenever they're hosting a meal, which has gone from once a month to two to three times a month.
Grace Prillaman is a North Carolina State University graduate and rising first year law student at Campbell Law School. Prillaman says she'd been following the Sullivans for a while on social media when she realized they were located in her own town and signed up for their dinners.
"Although I've just recently met Rachael and Tom, they've gone above and beyond already to make me feel welcome," said Prillaman. "I think what they are doing is amazing and it is so nice to have them close by and sort of adopting all of us college students as their own big family."
Priscilla Casas, a student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, agrees.
"From the first day I stepped in their house," said Casas, "I felt at home. It's been such an amazing experience, and I've been able to enjoy nice delicious home cooked meals while meeting many people along the way."
The Sullivans say they're the ones who benefit most from the dinners, which are also cooked to follow Rachael's PCOS-friendly diet.
“These kids are awesome," said Tom. "They're so grateful, and I feel like it's hitting a point where we're getting as much joy out of it as they are."
"Every kid’s coming for a different reason," Rachael added. "That's a cool thing to see. They're not just coming because it's a free meal — some kids are coming to get a break from the stress of college and to put themselves in a new environment."
But what does College Kid Kevin, the guy who started it all, think of sharing his meals with more than 100 fellow students?
"This mini-movement is truly special and I'm glad Tom and Rachael have the opportunity to help so many other college kids my age," Gallagher told TODAY. "Their help has meant the world to me and I truly feel like they're my family. They are some of the kindest people in the world."