All his life Eric “Bean” McKay has loved peanut butter. For almost every meal, the 15-year-old who has autism eats peanut butter and jelly on English muffins. After he received a lifetime supply, he decided to share his windfall by giving peanut butter to furloughed federal employees.
“It was his idea,” Tracy McKay, Bean’s mother, told TODAY. “He knows that we have so much and sharing it is what you do when you have a lot.”
Since Bean was 2-years-old, peanut butter and jelly on English muffins has been his favorite meal.
“We landed on something that he would eat and we stuck with it. Consistently, peanut butter was something that he would eat,” McKay said.
For years, McKay purchased peanut butter in bulk. When a new Lidl store opened near their home in Woodbridge, Virginia, both McKay and Bean were excited that peanut butter was on sale for 78 cents a jar. So McKay purchased 72 jars last February and Bean numbered every one with a Sharpie. When he finished his last jar in October, he took a picture and sent a tweet to Lidl asking when peanut butter would be on sale again.
“He only had five followers on Twitter at the time and it was me and his siblings. And Lidl responded to him,” McKay said. “ It was crazy.”
Lidl told Bean if he got 72 re-tweets they’ll give him 72 more jars. So McKay and her friends shared it and Bean got the 72 re-tweets.
But then Lidl threw down a serious challenge: If he got 72,000 re-tweets they’d give him a lifetime supply of peanut butter.
“People just loved it, just loved the idea of this kid getting this," McKay said. "It really took on a life of its own."
While many people, especially those in the autism community, shared it, he stalled at about 40,000 re-tweets.
McKay told Bean they might not make it. But Lidl felt confident that he would. Then around Christmas something amazing happened — fantasy writer Neil Gaiman shared the tweet.
“Neil Gaiman jumped in and was talking about autism and dietary restriction. He got in there and started being really really supportive,” McKay said. “It was cool.”
Then Monica Lewinsky shared it as part of her anti bullying campaign. The tweets exploded.
What’s more, Bean’s tweet started a conversation about neuro-diversity and autism that McKay never anticipated. Adults and children with autism sent direct messages about how they, too, have very specific food preference. People without autism said they never understood why their nephew or cousin only liked certain foods until they learned about Bean.
“It was really really nice to see autistic adults chime in and say, “This is me, too,” she said. “They were seeing each other and validating each other.”
When Bean reached 72,000 re-tweets he felt ecstatic. When he visited the distribution center to see his peanut butter, he turned to his mom and said, “If they are going to give us all this food we should share it.”
Lidl agreed. Bean was planning to donate the peanut butter to a women’s shelter. When it became apparent the shutdown wasn’t going to be short-lived, he knew furloughed workers might benefit from it. His stepfather, Jonathan Lamb is one of the furloughed federal employees. On Wednesday, he handed out jars at his local Lidl store. He still has some more to hand to federal employees on Saturday. McKay felt stunned by the response.
“The very first guy really wanted to hug him. Some people were very quiet,” McKay. “A couple people complimented me on what a wonderful young man he is.”
While Bean isn’t a huge fan of hugs or loads of people, he enjoyed helping. McKay said this experience was eye-opening.
“The world might seem pretty crappy right now," she said. "But people are so good and so willing to support someone who is willing to put themselves out there."