What Does a Wendy’s Hamburger Have to Do with Adoption?

There's more than meets the eye to the founder of the Wendy's fast food chain.

MK Menon September 13, 2018
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When you hear the name, Dave Thomas, I bet you think about Wendy’s mouthwatering square hamburgers that you’ll wash down with an old-fashioned frosty. But, did you know that Dave was invited by President George H. W. Bush to be the spokesperson for the national adoption awareness campaign in 1990 and posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003?

Dave Thomas was adopted when he was 6 weeks old, and he lost his adoptive mother was he was 5, but these early obstacles did not shadow his desire to help other children with losses of their own. Dave’s philanthropy for orphan children inspired him to start the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in 1992, North America’s only nonprofit charity focused on moving children out of foster care and into a permanent family. Through one of the programs, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, a five-year evaluation has shown children enrolled in the program have a threefold higher chance of being adopted than those not in the program. And those children selected are the ones most at risk of aging out foster care. The majority are over the age of 8 and more than half have spent an upwards of four years in foster care. What makes this program unique revolves around the low ratio of recruiters to cases as well as their approach to contact people closest to each child like other family members, neighbors, friends and the community from which the child originated.

In the 1990s, Dave started a public campaign for workplaces to provide adoption benefits. His vocal efforts and multiple visits to the White House to testify before Congress about the need for adoption tax credits proved worthwhile. In 1996 President Bill Clinton signed a tax credit bill that gave adoptive parents $5,000 when they adopt. Dave made this mission a cornerstone of the foundation. You can find a downloadable toolkit here that will not only give you a persuasive business case to discuss with your employer about creating an adoption-friendly environment, but will also provide your employer with the tools needed to implement the benefits.

Hoping to reach out to the public directly, Dave pitched in 2000 what has become an annual special run on CBS, “A Home for the Holidays.” The entertainment special features children waiting to be adopted and stories from adoptive families and children who have been placed as a result of efforts from the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Well-known musical guests like Kelly Clarkson, Mariah Carey, Rachel Crow, Matchbox Twenty, and a host of others have appeared on the show over the years to show their advocacy for adoption. More than 30,000 viewers of “A Home for the Holidays,” have reached out to obtain more information about adoption since it aired 18 years ago.

Despite Dave’s death in 2002 due to a decades-long battle with a carcinoid neuroendocrine tumor, his legacy remains strong. His daughter, Wendy, serves on the foundation’s board of trustees and has ensured that his mission to dramatically increase the number of adoptions from foster care is upheld. Based on the 8,000 plus success stories from the foundation, it looks like Dave—in absentia—continues to do just that. For more information on how you can help Dave’s cause, visit the Dave Thomas website.

*Visit our photolisting page for children who are ready to find their forever families. 

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MK Menon

MK Menon is a transracial international adoptee. She was adopted as an infant in a closed adoption yet managed to successfully trace her roots in her twenties. This year she hopes to publish her memoir about her journey to her birth mother. She's a vocal advocate for adoptees tracing their roots. She works as a research scientist and freelance writer. When she and her husband aren't chasing their toddler around the house, she loves cooking up a storm. She currently lives in California.


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