DALTON, Ga. -- With an infectious smile, sparkling eyes and a polka-dot bow tie, 18-month-old Lucas Warren is the new face of an iconic American brand.
And along the way, he may change how people view those with special needs.
Lucas, who along with his parents Jason and Cortney Warren live in Dalton, Georgia, was introduced Wednesday morning to the world on NBC’s "Today" show as the "2018 Gerber Spokesbaby." He is the first toddler with Down syndrome to be picked by the company since it began selecting a yearly winner in 2010.
“We are hoping it does change how people look at children and anyone with special needs,” Jason said Wednesday afternoon during a whirlwind of media interviews in New York City.
Cortney said Lucas now has "a platform to spread joy, not only to those he interacts with every day, but to people all over the country." She hopes this is an opportunity to educate others about people with special needs.
Lucas was chosen from more than 140,000 entries and will be used on the company’s social media and advertising platforms. By being selected, the Warrens also receive $50,000 from Gerber, which makes baby food and other nutritional items for children.
Since 1928, the charcoal-sketched baby face has been Gerber's hallmark. Lucas’ "winning smile and joyful expression won our hearts," Gerber President and CEO Bill Partyka said in a press release. He added that Lucas "is the perfect fit."
Cortney said that Lucas’ smile has certainly been on display during Wednesday’s long day of media interviews.
“For him, it has been more of, ‘I have more people to wave and smile at, so who is next?’” Cortney said with a laugh. “He is definitely soaking up the attention. It has been interview after interview and he has already had a couple of naps.”
In the winning photo, Lucas is clutching the cuffs of his white pants with both hands while flashing a wide smile. His is nattily dressed in a light green short-sleeved shirt, set off by a blue bow tie with green and pink polka dots.
Cortney submitted the photo of Lucas on Instagram with the contest’s hashtag, but said she didn’t give it much thought at the time.
“We were totally shocked,” she said. “Out of all of the applicants, for your child to be the one, it is emotional and shocking and almost like a dream. We are just very excited to be part of something like this.”
While the big announcement came from the NBC studios in New York City, Jason said Gerber contacted he and Cortney in December to tell them Lucas had been chosen. Since then, the parents had to keep it a secret.
“(Not being able to tell anyone) has been one of the hardest things we have had to do,” Jason said. “It was tough to keep it a secret from family and friends.”
Chris Whitfield writes for The Daily Citizen News in Dalton, Georgia.