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Couple turns tragedy into soulful art; nonprofit helps hungry children and local artists

Published: Sunday, Dec. 23 2012 10:28 p.m. MST

Nick and Janessa Whatcott operate the nonprofit Sugar Doodle Kids, which donates to the Utah Food Bank.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — For Nick and Janessa Whatcott, the curse of losing their infant son has become a true blessing.

Even though the loss was devastating, they say the tragedy prompted them to launch a project that would recognize the beauty of their son's short life and help other kids live better, healthier lives.

"My wife and I wanted to honor our son, Cole, who we lost when he was just 6 days old (in 2008)," said Nick Whatcott, 32. "We want to give other children the opportunities that Cole would have had to dream big and achieve their goals. When kids are hungry and worried about their next meal, they can't concentrate on all they are capable of."

Approximately 1 in 6 Utah children live below the poverty line, he explained.

The Whatcotts say no child should ever go to bed hungry. To address the issue, Nick Whatcott came up with a business plan to benefit the Utah Food Bank and other organizations fighting children's hunger, while giving young artists a venue to show their work. It's called Sugar Doodle Kids.

Child and adult artists submit their artwork into an online voting contest at www.sugardoodlekids.com. The company then prints the artwork with the most votes onto high-end children's sleepwear.

For every product sold, a meal is given to a child in need through the Utah Food Bank's BackPack program. The program provides meals for underprivileged children statewide.

By creating a sustainable company that could create revenue and give back, the Whatcotts said they believe they can have a greater overall impact on the issue of child hunger.

Sugar Doodle Kids' motto is "Dream in Comfort," which means as one child slumbers in the comfy artist-designed pajamas, another is going to bed with a full stomach, Nick Whatcott explained.

The Whatcotts said they feel an obligation and duty to help as many needy children as possible through their efforts — starting in Utah.

"We definitely wanted to start local in our community," Nick Whatcott said. The couple hopes to expand the program as the company grows in the coming years.

The kids and artists are paid a fee for their work, and the art is then transferred onto sleepwear products and sold via their online store, he said. The price of the pajamas ranges from $29 to $38.

Eventually, the product line will also include bedding, linens and other items that kids need as they go to bed at night.

Bedtime is such an important bonding time for parents and kids, said Janessa Whatcott, 28, and having children go to bed hungry ruins that experience and contributes to stunted growth.

"The first three years of a child's development is crucial," she said. "If they don't have adequate nutrients, it can affect their development long-term.

"We want to at least give the kids a start at a good life," she said. "If they don't have a great start on life, then how are they going to have a positive future?"

Most every child can relate to pajamas, Janessa Whatcott said, making the company's first product an ideal choice to launch their effort.

"Every kids loves to wear pajamas," she said. "They are something (kids) can be excited about. We are going to make this (project) successful because there is such a need out there to help (kids)."

Nick Whatcott came up with the business plan as a class project while enrolled in graduate school at Westminster College. His creativity and determination impressed the program's lead instructor.

"Nick is very entrepreneurial, and I believe he and his wife will be very successful with Sugar Doodle Kids," said Linda Muir, director of Westminster's Center for Entrepreneurship.

Email: jlee@desnews.com, Twitter: JasenLee1

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