Jason Warren had tears rolling down his face when he learned that his 18-month-old son Lucas was this year's Gerber Baby. Lucas was definitely chosen for his cuteness, but there's something extremely special about Lucas being chosen. Something so special that Lucas' family hopes the impact goes beyond their family.
Owner of a vegetable and fruit company, Daniel Frank Gerber, founded Gerber baby food in 1927. A year later, the new brand put out a call asking parents for pictures of their babies for the company's new advertisements. They were looking for a baby that had a face that best represented the new baby food. Dorothy Hope Smith was one of the participants.
Dorothy was an artist that liked drawing children in particular. She drew a charcoal sketch of her five-month-old neighbor, Ann Turner Cook, and submitted it to Gerber. Dorothy told the judges that if she won, she would finish the sketch professionally. Dorothy did in fact win, but Gerber didn't want her to change. That's when little Ann became the official Gerber baby until 2010.
In order to reawaken their brand, Gerber started the Gerber Baby Photo Search in 2010, asking for parents to submit the cutest pictures of their adorable babies for a contest. Mercy Townsend was the first baby chosen. Ever since then, there has been a new baby every year. But this has been the most special year yet.
Jason and Cortney Warren live with their son Lucas in Dalton, Georgia. Lucas has Down Syndrome, but that doesn't define who he is. "He's very outgoing and never meets a stranger. He loves to play, loves to laugh and loves to make other people laugh," said Cortney. Until a family member brought it to her attention, she never thought Lucas could be the face of a brand.
Cortney was told by her aunt that Gerber was calling out for baby photos again. Cortney's aunt knew how incredible Lucas' smile was, so she suggested that her niece submit a picture of Lucas. The picture Cortney chose was absolutely perfect.
The picture Cortney submitted was of Lucas all dressed up for his first Sunday church service. With a polka-dotted bow tie, a teal polo, and white chinos, Lucas looked absolutely dashing. But it wasn't just what he was wearing that made him win, his incredibly big smile is what did the judges in.
More than 140,000 people submitted photos into the Gerber contest. But the Warrens were the ones that received a letter stating that Lucas was going to be the 2018 Gerber Baby. Lucas' parents couldn't believe it! When Cortney was asked how they reacted to the news she said, “Shock… a little disbelief, like, is this real? Am I dreaming?” It didn't take long for the reality of the situation to set in and they understood how important it was.
Lucas has the honor of being the first Gerber Baby with Down Syndrome, and they want Lucas to be proud of that. “I just want him to look back and say ‘I was the Gerber Baby. Look at everything I did,’” said Jason, his father. Cortney also hopes that Lucas winning could help bring awareness about people with disabilities.
“I hope it shines a light on the special needs community, showing that they are just like you and me. They should be accepted. Not based on their looks but based on who they are," Cortney told Today. The Gerber company completely agrees with that message!
Bill Partyka, CEO and President of Gerber, said "Every year, we choose the baby who best exemplifies Gerber's longstanding heritage of recognizing that every baby is a Gerber baby. This year, Lucas is the perfect fit.” Lucas' family also received $50,000 as part of winning! Jason began crying when he thought about what it could all mean for Lucas.
The Warrens plan on putting the money towards education for Lucas. “As a father, seeing your child exceed in life and go to school is something I’m looking forward to,” said Jason, as tears rolled down his face. Even though he doesn't know it, Lucas is a mini-celebrity now. Lucas is just happy being himself and making everyone smile!
“He may have Down syndrome, but he’s always Lucas first,” Cortney said about Lucas, who enjoys playing with his toy piano, and loves listening to music. But there's something Lucas loves more than music, he loves spreading happiness. Cortney says that Lucas can just sense when someone is upset and will go up to them to give them “a big, old sloppy kiss.” And people are definitely feeling his joy!
People all over the world were warmed by the news of Lucas becoming the new Gerber Baby. But parents of children with Down Syndrome were touched the most. Instagram user @samanthajob said, “When Bodie was born I believed a lie, that others would not value him as much as I do. But, today is a new day. It is such a beautiful, good day."
Kate Driscoll, the founder and president of Changing the Face of Beauty, an organization that promotes the equal representation of people with disabilities in the media, said "We believe if brands represent children with a disability, they are communicating their value to our society. Moves like this move us closer to a more inclusive world."