Most Americans recognize McDonald's Big Mac as two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun.
To 16-year-old Kamden Hartley, the iconic hamburger is also a symbol of friendship and kindness, as well as his key to spreading a little holiday cheer among Utah's homeless this Christmas.
With the help of a couple of influential friends, Hartley recently used social media to raise more than $8,000. The money will allow Hartley to work with McDonald's and a small army of volunteers to distribute thousands of Big Macs among the homeless population in various cities around the western United States during the holidays.
"Sure, it's nice to open presents, but this is just a chance to go out of your way and do something nice for others during Christmas," the teenager said. "Last Christmas was probably the best Christmas I ever had."
Hartley's first interaction with the homeless came last December when his family served chili at Salt Lake City's Pioneer Park.
"I saw how much it stinks being homeless around Christmas," he said. "I figured hey, I can do something like this."
Within a few days, Hartley raised about $200 from family and friends and used it to buy 65 Big Macs. He rallied a small group of helpers that passed the hamburgers out to homeless people around Pioneer Park on Christmas Day. He called his simple charitable cause the "Big Mac Attack."
"They weren't expecting it," Hartley said. "I loved seeing the smiles on their faces and it made me feel good. It was just a blast to do something nice for other people. Super, super fun."
Now the Big Mac Attack is back, but on a much larger scale.
After hearing him speak at his high school in November, Hartley reached out to Collin Kartchner, a social media influencer who several months ago started a campaign to spread awareness of how social media can add to the problems of teen anxiety, depression, and suicide.
Knowing that Kartchner had helped raise funds for hurricane victims, Hartley recounted his 2017 Big Mac Attack and asked if Kartchner could help him raise double the amount this year by promoting his cause among Kartchner's more than 75,000 Instagram followers.
Kartchner was impressed. What Hartley wanted to do validated his campaign for teens to use social media for good. A few days later he shared Hartley's idea and Venmo account on Instagram. Within seconds, Hartley had more than $300.
"I told Kamden the last time I did this was for Hurricane Harvey victims, we raised like $150,000 in two weeks. We're probably not going to do that much, but hold on," Kartchner said. "About 10 seconds later, he messaged me and said, 'Dude, I already broke my record.' His message was hilarious because he said this is 'Insane, my mind is blown.' I told him I just shared this. It's going to blow up."
It helped that Hartley also reached out to a family friend, Rachel Nilsson, the founder of a children's clothing business, "Rags," who also shared his cause with her large social media following.
In a matter of hours, Hartley had several thousand dollars. People from all over the country donated money in amounts ranging from $1 to $100. By the next day, the amount settled around $8,300. Kartchner also tagged McDonald's and within a short time, Hartley connected with some of McDonald's top executives in Utah. They were thrilled to be involved, Hartley said.
By taking advantage of McDonald's two Big Macs for $5 deal, Hartley had enough money to buy more than 3,300 Big Macs. Hartley knew that was more than enough for Utah and decided to expand to other cities where he had friends and connections. After talking it over with his parents, he developed his plan.
On Dec. 21, Hartley and volunteers plan to deliver 200 Big Macs for dinner at the Switchpoint Community Resource Center in St. George (948 North 1300 West).
On Dec. 24, volunteers will pass out 100 or more Big Macs in Ogden. Another 500 Big Macs will be distributed in Las Vegas. There are also plans to share 100 or more Big Macs in Provo, but details for these events are still being determined, Hartley said.
The McDonald's at 210 West 500 South in Salt Lake City is normally closed on Dec. 25, Christmas Day, but it will open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. specifically for Hartley's Big Mac Attack, said Cory Watson, the owner/operator.
"It’s been exciting to see the response to Kamden’s campaign and we are so impressed with how he has organized this effort. We are proud to have a part in making this come to life and to make a difference in the communities we serve," Watson said. "Even though our 500 South restaurant is officially closed on Christmas Day, our employees enthusiastically volunteered to open for Kamden’s effort. Our restaurants in the Ogden and Provo areas, along with owner/operators in St. George and Las Vegas were equally eager to be a part of this effort, especially as we celebrate this 50th year of serving the iconic Big Mac."
In addition to spreading the word in advance, a group of volunteers will direct as many homeless as possible to the 500 South McDonald's location for a Big Mac and free small fry. Hartley has also coordinated with the Rescue Mission at 463 South 400 West to provide Big Macs for lunch. Overall, they anticipate giving out 500 or more Big Macs in Salt Lake City on Christmas Day, Hartley said.
Beyond Utah, other volunteers will give away Big Macs in San Diego (300), Los Angeles (1,000), Sacramento (300), and Houston (300) between Dec. 21 and Dec. 31. Brad Hartley, Kamden's father, also hopes to tap into a network of friends in Santiago, Chile, where he served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and possibly distribute some Big Macs there, he said.
"We have backup plans in every city to pass out any leftover Big Macs to women's shelters and low-income housing areas so that no food gets wasted," Brad Hartley said.
Kamden Hartley also plans to involve the young men and young women in his Farmington Pointe Ward. He's grateful for all who have supported his Big Mac Attack and views it as a way to minister to others who are less fortunate.
"I've been shocked to see how many people are willing to help. There's so many good people and so many good things you can do," Kamden Hartley said. "My vision or goal is to have a day where the homeless know that, hey, on this day, in every major city, I can get a Big Mac. Maybe it could become a national charity or 'Big Mac Day' or something."
For Brad Hartley, his son's Big Mac Attack is an example of the Book of Mormon message in Alma 37:6, "By small and simple things are great things brought to pass."
"I think the reason so many people are willing to give is because they're inspired by a teenage kid wanting to do good, and so they're willing," Brad Hartley said. "If someone takes the initiative to spearhead a project, sometimes that's all it takes for something small to transform into something big."
Kartchner, who has a video production company, is planning to produce a short video documenting Kamden Hartley's Big Mac Attack so he can show it as he continues to speak to high school students. Kartchner also wants to take Hartley on his speaking tour so he can share his experience, which Kartchner believes will have a powerful impact on young impressionable minds.
"Look, you can use social media to ruin your life or to go change the world. You don’t have to be 30 or older, you can be a high school kid with a goal to make $300. It’s pretty cool," Kartchner said. "I think he'll inspire them. I want him to be the poster boy for using social media for good. You don’t have to be huge to change lives."
Anyone wishing to contribute to Kamden Hartley's Big Mac Attack can do so through his
Venmo account: @kamdenhartley.