In 2004, when Hurricane Charley devastated parts of Florida, 6-year-old Zach Bonner decided to try to help his neighbors who had no water. Going from door to door, pulling his red wagon, the boy asked neighbors to give up some of their stockpiled water to help those in need.
The water the boy collected eventually filled 27 pickups and gave him a taste for helping others. Since then, he’s started his own nonprofit, the Little Red Wagon Foundation, and has raised thousands of dollars and collected food and school supplies for needy children. He has walked hundreds of miles to raise awareness of the plight of homeless children, appeared on “Good Morning America” and received a presidential service award.
Now 12, Bonner will be the keynote speaker Jan. 15 at this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day children’s program in North Idaho. Every year, the program brings all Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls fifth-graders to North Idaho College to learn about diversity and human rights. This year the keynote speaker won’t be much older than they are.
“I will encourage other youth to get out in your communities and start helping in all the ways that you can,” Bonner said Monday from Florida. “You don’t have to have a lot of experience. Just come up with an idea and do it.”
Bonner also will speak at the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations annual fundraising gala on Jan. 18, to be held at the Parkside tower in Coeur d’Alene, task force co-founder Tony Stewart said at a Monday news conference. Stewart was joined by representatives from NIC and the Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls school districts.
“We love the idea of bringing young people in who have made a difference, so we can encourage our fifth-graders, that even though they might be 10 or 11, they too can make a big difference at a young age,” said Pam Pratt, the Coeur d’Alene School District’s director of elementary education and the director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day children’s program.
Bonner’s actions lend credence to Pratt’s words. In 2007, he walked 280 miles from Tampa to Tallahassee to bring awareness to the first-ever National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. In 2008, he walked from Tallahassee to Atlanta for the same cause and to raise money to build a Habitat for Humanity house.
Bonner solicits donations of food and supplies for backpacks he distributes to homeless and street kids. He has donated $8,000 worth of school supplies, toys, sports equipment and books, and he’s held holiday parties for kids.
He wanted other children to get involved in his cause so he started 24 Hours, in which kids from across Florida simulate being homeless for one day to raise money, supplies and awareness.
On April 1, Bonner plans to begin a 2,200-mile walk from Tampa to Los Angeles to raise awareness about the 1.3 million homeless youths in the country. His Web site is littleredwagonfoundation.com.