Becky Nichols created Loving Libbie Mac & Cheese to give back to children with cancer in honor of her own daughter she lost to leukemia 15 years ago.
By Jenny Hoff, Photo by Romina Olson
Becky Nichols’ backyard office is the dream playhouse her daughter Libbie would have loved. Built with leftover plywood and painstakingly stenciled and decorated with bright pinks, reds and blues, it’s a tiny home that boasts a playful garden chandelier and pictures painted by the small hands of unfathomably strong children.
Like most things in Nichols’ life, it’s both a tribute to her daughter, who died of leukemia 15 years ago, and a symbol of her philosophy of finding and creating beauty with whatever she has—even if the task seems impossible.
“My nickname is Broken Becky,” Nichols says. “I take things that maybe nobody else would want to deal with and try to make something beautiful with it.”
It’s that kind of determination that has kept Nichols going, even after experiencing the worst tragedy a parent can imagine. Losing her spunky, beautiful daughter at only 5 1/2 years old after years of hospital visits, drugs, therapies and operations, Nichols coped with her grief by doing what she does best: building something new with the broken pieces of her heart. She created the Loving Libbie Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing delicious and heartwarming food to children fighting cancer.
“I was just trying to stay alive,” Nichols says, tearing up, the pain of those days still fresh in her mind. “I didn’t realize at the time it would do so much for them too.”
She’s referring to the thousands of children who have dug into her homemade Loving Libbie Famous Mac & Cheese or visited her Libbie’s Funtime Foodtruck for a taste of home cooking, a warm hug and a momentary escape from the burdens of real life.
“This is a comfort food that can calm an upset tummy and put a smile on the face of the parent that forgot to bring lunch,” says Mary Frasher, the community outreach coordinator for the Children’s Blood and Cancer Center in Austin, who also knew Libbie. “Loving Libbie Mac & Cheese is what separates us from any other clinic, at least that’s what the kids think.”
In the 13 years since its inception, the Loving Libbie Memorial Foundation has grown to serve meals to clinics and hospitals throughout Texas, from Dallas to the Rio Grande Valley. Every year, the foundation serves more than 4,100 portions of mac and cheese, dozens of specialty celebration cakes and food for Thanksgiving meals. The organization also offers cooking classes and special events for children in hospitals.
And Nichols is just getting started. As a finalist in the 2018 H-E-B Quest for Texas Best competition, she’ll now get to sell her Loving Libbie Famous Mac & Cheese in the frozen-food section at H-E-B stores throughout the state. All proceeds will go right back to her nonprofit foundation so more kids can get access to her meals and she can get her comfort food into more grocery stores throughout the country. She plans to go on a road trip with her husband this summer to personally introduce customers to her food.
“I was scared at first,” she says. “I get these ideas and think, ‘How am I going to make it happen?’ But then I do. ‘Impossible’ is not a part of my vocabulary.”
Jody Hall, H-E-B’s director of global sourcing, remembers Nichols’ enthusiasm from the very first information session about the contest, when Nichols sat in the front row, notebook in hand.
“If winning is defined as helping others in need, Becky was eager and determined to win because her mission was to feed as many kids fighting cancer as she possibly could,” Hall says.
While she may have reached a pinnacle by securing shelf space in Texas’ beloved grocery-store chain, Nichols says she is set up with locally owned Night Hawk Frozen Foods to conquer America and give some Southern comfort to children fighting cancer throughout the country.
“I’m only 53,” she says with a determined smile, surrounded by memories in her tiny-house office as she plots out her future. “I still have half of my life and 49 states left.”