Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Hunger, the Onion, Seth MacFarlane, and one surprised local woman

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2016 at 5:22 PM

click to enlarge screen_shot_2016-04-19_at_3.10.06_pm.png

The woman in this Onion  screenshot is Jenny Bealis-Schell, the co-owner of Design Rangers, a local Colorado Springs mom, and, apparently, something of a sudden celebrity.

In the last month, Jenny, who says she generally dodges cameras, has been featured in a web commercial seeking to raise money for hungry people and been featured in the aforementioned satirical article on the Onion, a story that was retweeted by Seth MacFarlane (the television producer, filmmaker, actor and singer who created Family Guy). She's also been the subject of many a commenter, including one who has insulted her "acting" and another who called her "annoying."

To say this has been surprising for Jenny is an understatement.

The genesis of this brush with fame began in the late 1970s. Jenny was 4 years old when her parents divorced. She says her dad didn't pay child support, and her mom, who worked as a waitress, often had little money. Mother and daughter moved to a piece of property that her mom got in the divorce, which was located in a ghost town just outside Victor, Colorado.

The cabin home had an outhouse, and no electricity or running water. For five years, mother and daughter scraped by, living in many ways as though it were the 1800s. Because money was scarce, Jenny was sometimes hungry. She fondly remembers neighbors who invited her to their homes for holiday meals, and a store that once gave her a bag of Christmas presents.

Her friend's family, she says, often watched her in the mornings before school when her mother worked early shifts. She remembers her friend's father making sourdough pancakes every morning. The food was a gift, as was the relief from her rugged circumstances.

“We didn’t have a TV and we had like kerosene lanterns," she recalls, "so just to walk into a house with electricity was a big deal.”

Because of her upbringing, Jenny has been eager to help the local food bank, Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado. Last year, she was the keynote speaker at Care and Share's fundraising luncheon and she says she was thrilled that the nonprofit was able to surpass its goal. Afterward, she said people would sometimes come up to her at random and tell her they heard her speech and were touched by it.

So when Care and Share called her again early this year, saying they wanted to submit her story for a commercial, she was excited. Every year, Walmart does a fundraising campaign with Care and Share's parent organization, Feeding America. Walmart stores send a portion of the proceeds from certain products, as well as donations made at cash registers, to Feeding America, which uses the money to buy food. The campaign is called  "Fight Hunger, Spark Change."  

This year, Walmart wanted to film profiles of people who volunteered with a Feeding America food bank and run them as ads on the web. After a national search, Walmart selected two stories from Colorado Springs, including Jenny's. A director from London and a film crew from New York came to the Springs to film the spots.

They even took Jenny back to her old hometown for part of the shoot.

“Having the film crew with me was so surreal and emotional,” she says.


In late March, the web ads started popping up. Then, on April 18, friends alerted Jenny to the Onion article.  Despite the less-than-generous headline, Jenny says she was thrilled. She and her husband love the Onion, as does her college-age son. And she was also excited about being in a MacFarlane tweet.

“It still think it’s like pretty cool," she says of the Onion article.

Adding, “Finally I’m going to get cool mom points.”

As for the negative comments, Jenny says she isn't really hurt. 

 “I'm not an actress," she says. "So I don’t care if [a commenter] calls me a shitty actress, because I’m not an actress.”

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