Herbert and Jeanne Mayer started their charitable foundation from their kitchen table in Sherman Oaks, California in 1996. In those early days there were no employees, no board, just Herb and Jeanne giving to causes that spoke to their heart.
Herb and Jeanne grew up during the Great Depression. The long conflict of World War II and the horrific revelations of the Holocaust shaped their youth. Herb grew up in Brooklyn. He struggled to stay in school and work a job to help his family. He dreamed of moving west to California. After high school, he took a job as a travelling salesman, and that’s how he met Jeanne in her home state of Kentucky. They married, began raising children, and then fulfilled their dream of moving to California, where they settled in the San Fernando Valley.
Herb was an entrepreneur, and of his many ideas the one that took off was a mail-order medical supply company. Herb and Jeanne felt fortunate to have made their way from humble beginnings. Herb and Jeanne’s kids grew, married, settled down, and then came the grandkids. They instilled their sense of giving back in their children and grandkids.
Jeanne and Herb were avid walkers, and explored the neighborhoods and trails of the Hollywood Hills. One morning while walking around Lake Hollywood, they saw a running team taking a rest on the curb and noticed that many of the kids had holes in their shoes. Jeanne was heartbroken at the state of their shoes. Herb, always the extrovert, chatted with the kids and their coach, Sharon Frazier. They learned the kids were from Berendo Middle School in the Pico Union inner-city neighborhood of Los Angeles. They asked a few questions and encouraged the kids. And when they got home they sent a check for new shoes for the whole team.
And it wasn’t just a one time gift — Herbert and Jeanne adopted that running team. Over the years they helped with more shoes, jackets, lights for safe running at night, sending kids to competitions, and they even came to their sport banquets. They knew that these kids needed some help to equip them for sports, for healthy activity, for life.
Herb and Jeanne have now passed away. With the gift of their estate, the Herbert R. and Jeanne C. Mayer Foundation has become more than kitchen-table philanthropy. Now their granddaughter, Sarah Jeanne Kalter, heads the Foundation along with an independent board of directors. Sarah and the board looked to Jeanne and Herb’s values to shape their mission statement: to help at-risk kids in California find hope, support, and the life-skills to thrive.
When Sarah heard about Shoes That Fit, she was immediately reminded of her grandparents and the running team. She knew it was a great fit. Herb and Jeanne loved to walk and stay active, and they cared deeply about making sure kids had the shoes they needed to stay healthy.
The Mayer Foundation is helping Shoes That Fit to leverage support for children in Los Angeles. Through a generous grant of $75,000, the Foundation is providing 2,500 kids in Los Angeles with new shoes. Shoes that help children to be active and healthy, emotionally and physically. It’s a wonderful gift, especially in these times when children feel unmoored from their normal routine.
Sarah lovingly describes her grandfather as a character. “Frank Sinatra’s song My Way is how he lived his life.” She remembers how chatty he was; he could strike up a conversation anywhere. Once on a plane, Herb had a long conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
And Sarah remembers Jeanne as “the best grandma”. “She was a lifelong learner, so glam and chic. Her favorite outfit was a Pucci dress and matching turban. She made sure our dress up bin was stocked.”
It may not be run from the kitchen table anymore, but in the Mayer Foundation the values of the kitchen table survive. Values of helping local children in need, personal connection, and the responsibility to leave the world a little better.