A heart for the hurting: 11-year-old’s compassion feeds his effort to provide food and more for the struggling

Eleven-year-old Ethan Reynolds puts food on his table so the struggling can put food on theirs.

Therein lies the main ingredient of his recipe for compassion right in front of his home at 2515 13th St. in Columbus. A simple, hand-lettered sign reading “Free Food” adorns a small table heralding his big-hearted mission.

The basic kitchen structure, known as Ethan’s Table, holds canned meats and vegetables and protein bars and fruit and tuna and toiletries and bottled water and … well, we could be here all day.

Reynolds, a fifth-grader at the local L. Frances Smith Elementary School, thought up the take-what-you-need giveaway, offered 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily except during rain, after he saw more than one local person around town amid the current COVID-19 pandemic holding a cardboard sign with a message of a need for food.

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The next day, the youngster who already has volunteered at a nursing home and also as a cat socializer at an animal shelter, took his own $10 — all the money he had early last month — and told mom Jessica Reynolds he would buy food for others and give it away.

That was early April, and since then, all manner of strangers have regularly dropped off food donations for his table after seeing the news on social media or even on a national video-clip TV show called “Right This Minute.”

“I’m feeling pretty emotional about just how kind people can be,” he said.

Mom’s feeling pretty emotional about just how kind her kid can be.

“He’s been doing this kind of stuff for a long time now,” she said. “When we would have garage sales, he (at age 7) would go to his room and get his candy and all of his little toys. And he would put them in boxes and offer them to other kids for free.”

His mother began encouraging him to volunteer for a simple reason.

“I wanted to make sure he was good-hearted,” she said.

Mission accomplished, many would say. That would include local resident and retiree Woody Brown.

He stopped by the Reynolds’ house late Thursday afternoon for apples and more. He smiled when he saw the youngster sitting on the front porch, practicing safe distancing.

“Something like this means an awful lot me — it sure does,” Brown said. “I love my candy and apples.”

Three days earlier, Brown stopped for a bag of Tootsie Rolls. But Reynolds and his mother may be sweeter than any candy, especially considering that she has been out of work as an Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill + Bar waitress during the statewide quarantine while still joining her boy in concern for others.

A few years ago, her son helped care for his grandmother and regularly occupied her mind with games of Uno when she was ill with Parkinson’s disease. During the holidays, he has sat with struggling nursing home patients and helped them open their Christmas gifts.

“I’m really happy that my mom has been so supportive of all this,” the son said.

Others have encouraged him. One anonymous note left on the table read, “Ethan, God bless you. This sure helps my family.”

Another note, from a local teacher who donated food for the table, gushed gratitude: “Thanks for being such a kind and compassionate kid in our community. We need more people like you.”

The student seems genuinely humbled by the attention. But he wants something more than publicity.

“I’d like to see less people needing to beg for help or beg for food,” he said.

Visitors to Ethan’s Table are as varied as the city population at the table. They include a homeless man who had just been fishing for his supper in the river. Young people on bikes who have stopped to supplement their family’s cupboard. A range of mothers seeking just a little extra to make ends meet.

Others, moved by the young man’s generosity, have been moved to imitate his heart. A local blogger recently brought packages of toilet paper and $135 in cash on Wednesday so the Reynolds could buy more groceries for others. A day later, a local woman dropped off sacks of groceries for his visitors and a gift card to a video store for the youngster.

Plus, a local auxiliary plans to present him with a national youth award soon.

Ideally, Reynolds would like to see others in other neighborhoods adopt his idea — one that includes refilling the table every time someone takes items, and also includes a fresh wiping down. He’s had experience with the disinfecting, since he did that same task among the shelves and books as a Bartholomew County Public Library volunteer before the facility closed last month.

He is hardly one for idleness. He just began mowing lawns with equipment he requested from relatives at Christmas. And, it seems little surprise indeed that a portion of proceeds from each yard currently is kept separate from his wallet.

For Ethan’s Table.

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  • Currently available daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 2515 13th St. in Columbus. People take whatever they need with no questions asked.
  • Includes a wide range of nonperishable food and also toiletries from shampoo to (sometimes) toilet paper.
  • Currently supported by those donating items and money.