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Concord Veteran Brightens Snack Aisle With A Smile


Imagine shopping for snacks at 7-Eleven and seeing your neighbor’s face on a bag of potato chips. Well, neighbors of Concord resident Pollyanna Neely will experience this during their snack runs because she is one of 30 people selected by Lay's Potato Chips to show off their smiles in snack aisles.

  She will be featured on bags of Lay's Limon, Lay's Fried Pickles with Ranch and Lay's Sea Salt & Pepper after being recognized by the Smile with Lay's campaign for her work in the community. Neely is the cofounder of Active Veterans with Answers, a nonprofit in China Grove that helps veterans become educated and access their benefits.

"We educate veterans, their spouses, their family members and their caregivers on the benefits that they're entitled to from the department of veterans affairs and subsidiaries,” Neely said. “We also have a component called Vet Girls Rise, where we bring female veterans together so that we can talk about more of the different types of conditions that we had as veterans, because I, myself, am a veteran.”

Neely served in the Navy for 25 years. She was a master chief Navy counselor E-9, the highest enlisted rank. She said she doesn’t know who nominated her to Lay’s other than that the person is also a military veteran.

When she was notified that she was selected to smile on the Lay's bags, she thought it was spam.

"Lay's notified us through email. I didn't believe it at first," said Neely. "I thought it was spam or a prank from my family, but they (Lay's) continued to contact me, and I became more excited."

Neely says she is overjoyed to help bring exposure to Operation Smile. The nonprofit serves to provide world-class surgery repair to children with cleft lip and palate worldwide. 

"We're promoting Operation Smile, but this also gives exposure to various fabulous nonprofits as well as mine that's out there helping people on a day to day basis," said Neely.

Credit Frito-Lay
Pollyanna Neey's smile is on the Sea Salt and Pepper flavor bag of Lay's chips.

  For the third year in a row, the Smile with Lay's campaign directly benefited Operation Smile and is donating $1 million in proceeds to the organization. To celebrate, Lay's would usually fly all the 30 honorees to Dallas, where they would have VIP photos and videos taken. However, these events, like many others, were canceled because of the pandemic.

"They were kind enough to do everything remotely for all 30 of us,” Neely said. “They brought us together on Zoom so that we could meet each other and exchange stories and get to know each other since we weren't able to travel.”

Sadira Furlow, vice president of marketing for Frito-Lay North America, said in a news release that a canceled photoshoot wasn’t enough to stop the project, especially since “people are looking for more reasons to smile than ever before.”

And Neely is happy to give people a reason to smile -- even if those smiles may be hidden by face masks. 

“It tickles me every time someone calls, or a friend says something,” Neely said. “One of my children said, 'Look at this! My mom has all of that and a bag of chips!’ It just made me smile because I love them so much, and I know they love me."

Dante Miller is a community engagement producer for WFAE and a Report for America (RFA) Corps members. Dante first joined WFAE in 2020 through RFA to work as part of a unique partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Digital Public Library of America. Her work in that project allowed her to use radio, online stories, Wikipedia entries and events to meet the community's news and information needs.