Eight-year-old James Smith, of Forsyth, had a goal for this Christmas. It involved a gift, but not Legos or video games. No requests for Santa.
It involved a big, plastic bucket and the homeless.
On his own, James came up with the idea of raising $1,000 for the homeless by Christmas, mostly collected in a paint bucket with a hole carved in the top. He chose Loaves & Fishes to receive the profits because the charity provides meals and shelter to the poor and struggling.
“It feels good to have, but it also feels good to give,” James said. “You don’t really need presents. Your presents are your friends and family and God.”
He delivered his Christmas gift of $1,200 and change Tuesday, just in time for Christmas.
It’s no small change to Loaves and Fishes, development director Mary Gatti said. “We do a Christmas appeal, and we’re about $10,000 below what we got last year,” she said. Plus, a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency was cut by $3,000, leaving the agency even further below budget.
“The additional funds we certainly need right now,” Gatti said. “The money is down and the food supply is down.”
Loaves and Fishes provided groceries to 2,270 people and sack lunches to 6,000 during the fiscal year that ended June 30, Gatti said, and demand just keeps growing.
“The fact that he is 8 years old sets such a good example, not only for children but for adults,” she said. “A lot of people think one person can’t make a difference, but this shows one person can.”
James had been collecting since his birthday in February, asking for donations instead of presents. But he didn’t stop with the $100 or so he was given then. Most of his donations clacked into the bottom of the bucket he held silently at the door of his church, St. Francis Episcopal in Macon, but some also came at Cub Scout meetings, camp and family gatherings.
It all started when he saw a commercial on television showing dogs in need at an animal shelter. “I thought of humans without any food like that and no shelter,” he said. “I thought about: What if that were me, how would I feel -- if I didn’t have any food, any Legos, TV, games or my dogs because we couldn’t afford to feed them.”
James had some setbacks. There were Sundays when no one gave anything or he collected just a couple of quarters. But his mother, Debra Smith, says he never got discouraged.
“We’ve been so proud because he’s never given up,” she said. “If it was up to him, he’d be shouting this from the rooftops.” He’s even dreamed of opening a store and donating all the profits to charity.
“When you do something like this, when you are (just) thinking about it, it’s not easy. But if you give in and let it happen, it’s as easy as eating pie,” said James, a serious young man whose contributions in adult Sunday School classes sometimes stump the grown-ups.
“He really is an old soul,” Gatti said of James. “You don’t know you’re talking to an 8-year-old.”
He plans to start raising funds for another organization soon, perhaps one that builds houses for the homeless. He wants to raise $100,000, enough to build a small house, but his parents have advised him to start with $1,000 again.
“My plan when I grow up is I’m going to move to different states and do $1,000 for two charities in each state and try to do all 50,” James said.
To contact Telegraph writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.