When I was a child and my parents asked me what gifts I wanted for my birthday, I would rattle off a list of toys or games. That’s to be expected, I think, of children of any generation.
Sometimes, though, children can be surprising with their generosity and selflessness. That’s a good thing and something that should be nurtured.
Archer Cantrell and Hunter Koharchick, both of Columbus, are thinking of others instead of themselves. They asked their friends not to bring them gifts to their birthday parties. Instead, they asked them to bring items that could be donated to other people who could benefit from them.
Supplies for soldier Archer turned 5 on June 17. Instead of gifts, he wanted his friends to bring items that he could send to soldiers. Archer’s interest in soldiers began about a year ago when he was having dinner with his parents, Yates and Jenny Cantrell, at Max & Erma’s near Edinburgh Premium Outlets.
A couple of soldiers entered the restaurant and caught Archer’s eye. He asked his parents who the soldiers were and what they did.
“We told him they fight for our freedom and protect our country, and sometimes they are overseas,” Jenny Cantrell said.
Archer’s interest in soldiers increased, and the questions continued. At some point, he began asking about sending soldiers a care package, his mother said. When it came time to discuss his birthday, she wanted to know if he wanted
his party at a bowling alley or a gymnastics center. Archer said he wanted it at the bowling alley, but he didn’t want presents from his friends.
“That was totally his idea, and it surprised me when he said it because I know he likes toys,” she said.
The next step was to find a soldier to whom they could send a care package. Jenny Cantrell shared her request with a friend who has worked with the Young Marines program. The friend knew of a Marine who might be receptive. The Marine — Brant LaRue of Hope — was contacted via Facebook, gave his approval and shared a few requests. LaRue asked for sunscreen because he was in a desert area and Jolly Ranchers because they would fit into his pocket and keep his mouth moist.
“He asked for a picture of Archer because he was touched that he would do something like that,” Jenny Cantrell said.
Between donations from Archer’s friends and his mother’s work colleagues, they filled a package that weighed about 12 pounds, which was mailed in July. It included items such as oatmeal packets, crackers, nuts, hot chocolate packets, protein bars, toothpaste, toothbrushes and deodorant. The package also included a letter from the Cantrells that told about Archer and thanked LaRue for his service.
“I think (Archer) felt very good about it, to help somebody,” Jenny Cantrell said of the care package.
Hunter turns 5 on Monday. His birthday party is Saturday. His friends have been asked to donate items to a local school supply drive in lieu of giving him gifts.
In this case, the idea originated with his mother, Maggie Boyer, but Hunter gave his approval.
The combination of school starting, Hunter already having plenty of toys and efforts to teach her son about giving back prompted Boyer to rethink gifts. So did the fact that his birthday would feature a swimming pool, bounce house and cupcakes.
“I asked him if he’d be OK with giving back, to get all the stuff kids need for school,” Boyer said.
So they’re collecting donations for the Bartholomew County School Supply Assistance program, which includes nearly 20 community partners. Its goal is to give every child in the area an equal start to school by providing supplies that some families have trouble affording.
Sometime soon, children will get pencils, erasers, crayons, folders and notebooks — tools to help them learn. A Marine will receive a package of goodies that will help him feel closer to home.
And two young boys will have learned an important lesson: Giving to others can be as good as any gift received.
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5639 or firstname.lastname@example.org.