Up Beat is a new section of the Bangor Daily News dedicated to uplifting stories. Look for tales of people helping people and things that will make you smile.
When Dorian Pillsbury, a 7-year-old second-grader at Brewer Community School, looked around during snack time, he was saddened that not everyone had something tasty to munch on.
That led Dorian and his mother, entrepreneur Lisa Liberatore, to form a business selling candles to fund snack-buying sprees.
Now, as schools have closed and life has changed during the pandemic, Dorian — “D-Max the Merch Man” according to his frequently posted YouTube videos — has branched out into selling stickers, shirts and hats, and is giving 30 percent of his profits to United Way of Eastern Maine to help feed needy kids across the region.
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Liberatore explained that the aid effort began with Dorian selling candles to buy snacks. Liberatore knew a person who made scented candles, and they settled on a mandarin and citrus offering that they called “D-Max Power Juice.” That was a financial success, and 100 candles were sold. The problem: Second-graders don’t think candles are cool, and Dorian wanted to sell something that might appeal more to his classmates.
That’s when his line of merchandise — “merch,” in the lexicon of young business owners — including T-shirts, stickers and soon, baseball caps. Each features Dorian’s artwork — the first edition pieces show a fish he drew — as well as the D-Max Merch logo by an artist he hired. They’re all available on his website and at Tiller & Rye in Brewer.
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In a social-distancing interview in his school parking lot on Wednesday, Dorian didn’t really want to talk about his business or the donation.
“It was her idea [to find a way to help feed hungry children],” he said, shyly, pointing to his mom before hopping on his scooter and heading off to perform a series of swooping circles on the smooth pavement.
But in his videos, which typically begin with “Hello, my people!” the youngster is much more talkative, and proves that he has learned some important promotional lessons from his mom.
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“If you don’t want to buy a T-shirt at thedmax.com, I’ve teamed up with the United Way,” Dorian says, wearing a suit and sitting behind a desk with a puppy in his lap. “So let’s help kids in need in this crisis and the quarantine. Hope you guys are having fun … and remember: You don’t have to buy my merch. Just press ‘donate’ and you can donate to the United Way.”
Jesse Moriarty, the chief operating officer for United Way of Eastern Maine, said Dorian’s efforts are inspiring.
“For me, this is all the hope for our future. It’s kids like Dorian who understand, we have to help each other. And we have to help kids. We have to make sure everyone has what they need,” Moriarty said.
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Liberatore is showing Dorian how businesses work, and has taught him that in order to donate money to others, he has to earn a profit. When all is said and done, 30 percent of the purchase price of the merch will go to the United Way. But when a visitor to his website clicks “donate,” 100 percent of that money ends up with the United Way.
After the candle-selling effort, Liberatore and Dorian went on a snack-buying spree, then delivered that food to area schools. During one trip just as schools were closing due to the pandemic, they ended up behind a school bus that was delivering meals to needy children along its route. Both were amazed at how many times the bus stopped, and decided to make food security for needy kids their focus.
“All of the money, whether it’s merch sales or donations, is now going through United Way [of Eastern Maine] so they can deploy it where it’s needed with the goal of helping hungry kids,” Liberatore said.
Got an uplifting story to share? You can reach John Holyoke at firstname.lastname@example.org.