After cancer ravaged her family, this mom launched a business to help other families thrive.

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Danielle Harper, founder of Zestbox, with her family. Photo courtesy of Danielle Harper

Eight years ago, Carmel resident Danielle Harper was leading a life not much different from many of her peers. She had recently turned thirty and she and her husband Scott were parents to two toddlers, busy juggling the competing demands of a young family and full-time careers. Then came the diagnosis.

Harper was diagnosed with cancer. Life as the Harpers knew it came to a halt. She paused her career as a personal chef and called on her mother and mother-in-law to help care for her kids while she underwent two and a half years of grueling treatments. Six months of chemotherapy was followed by a relapse, which led to another round of intensive chemo, radiation, immunotherapy and a stem cell transplant. Harper set everything aside to focus on getting better. Then came the next diagnosis.

Harper’s nephew was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma at four months old. With that, a family that was already struggling—to maintain hope, to look ahead—was dealt another crushing blow. “When I was sick, I wanted to get better and get back to my business, my children and my own life. But when my nephew got sick, I felt the need to do more.”

Harper came up with Zestbox, a subscription box that delivers organic or non-GMO superfoods, snacks and meal ingredients. Zestbox combines Harper’s professional training as a chef with her passion for clean eating. “For me, the two ways I was able to fight was by staying positive and eating healthy. That’s what I try to emulate in Zestbox.” Through Zestbox, Harper hopes to spread positivity and motivation to subscribers while also raising funds for pediatric cancer research. Two percent of Zestbox’s profits are donated to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a pediatric cancer charity.

In 2020, Zestbox’s first year, Harper raised over $7,000 for Alex’s Lemonade Stand, which translates to 143 research hours to bring better treatments and cures to children with cancer. For Harper, the value of fundraising was something that she and her husband worked to instill in their children beginning with Harper’s own illness. “I wanted them to have a positive understanding that they can still have control,” she said.

This year, Harper hopes to double her subscription base, which currently hovers around 100 monthly subscribers. “I’m very grateful for the amount of boxes each month because each box represents a family that is eating well.” While in many ways the pandemic has made growing the business difficult—vendor fairs, fundraisers and other social events have been canceled—it may also prove to be an ideal time. According to a recent report from Zuora, more than 22% of subscription box companies have seen acquisition rates grow during the pandemic, with particular growth among food and beverage boxes. With many families limiting their trips out, boxes provide convenience and a much-needed dose of happiness.

Each month, Zestbox subscribers receive a shipment of organic, non-GMO snacks and ingredients in additional to motivational items intended to highlight the theme of the month. February’s Valentine’s Day-themed box includes ingredients to make coq au vin, homemade pizza and kale and quinoa soup. Previous months’ boxes have included items such as chickpea puffs, butternut squash crackers, cashew bites and bone broth.

Heather Loftus, a Brewster resident and mom to three boys, said that getting Zestbox each month is “exciting, it’s like getting a present.” Beyond the fun of discovering what’s new each month, Loftus is even more passionate about subscribing because of what each box represents. “Not only am I supporting my friend, but I’m also doing something good,” she said, referring to the portion of each subscription fee that’s donated back to charity.

And, Loftus is grateful that the boxes have inspired her kids to try new, healthier foods. “I never cooked quinoa before, and now my kids eat quinoa.”

Danielle Harper, founder of Zestbox. Photo courtesy of Danielle Harper.
Danielle Harper, founder of Zestbox, and her husband, Scott Harper. Photo courtesy of Danielle Harper
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