Zach Bonner has raised $350,000 in donations for charity. He walked from Valrico to Washington D.C. and back—a 2,578 mile round-trip journey—and has been interviewed close to 200 times. He has spent nearly half of his life fighting for underprivileged youth.
And he’s only 12.
From Good Morning America to the BBC and four of the last five US presidents, everyone wants to know the blue-eyed, spiky-haired founder of the Little Red Wagon Foundation.
In a nutshell: Zach enjoys tennis and swimming, his favorite movies are Forrest Gump and (not surprisingly) Pay it Forward, he has read the Harry Potter series “about ten times” and he really likes Elton John’s music.
Oh, and he represents the more-than 1.3 million homeless children living in America. Typical sixth grader stuff, really.
“It bothers me what homeless kids go through,” Zach says.
It all started with a case of water. Hurricane Charley was projected to slam into Tampa Bay and the Bonner family stocked up on supplies, but the storm swerved south and hit Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte instead.
Zach was 7 at the time, and he heard the news unfold on the radio. He told his mom they had to help. “We’ve got water, let’s donate it,” his mom, Laurie, remembers him saying.
The Bonner family donated the case, 27 truckloads of water and other supplies that Zach collected over four months. Zach, who is a student of the Florida Virtual Academy, felt great about his accomplishment, but he still felt his mission wasn’t complete.
“He was always asking me what to do when it ends,” she says about Zach’s projects.
Red wagon in tow, Zach decided to spread his efforts into Louisiana and Mississippi to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. As money poured in, Laurie helped create the Little Red Wagon Foundation, now a nonprofit organization.
“She does the paperwork stuff,” says Zach, who does much of the charity work solo.
From there, he developed a monthly backpack giveaway for Katrina schoolchildren and gave Christmas presents to the victims during the holidays. On his tenth birthday, he started a new expedition: He made a 23-day trek from Valrico to Tallahassee.
Zach, along with his mother and sister, walked about a dozen miles a day and slept in an RV donated by Lazydays. The walk raised approximately $25,000 in money and supplies. The next year he lined up sponsors such as Smithfield Hams in Plant City, Publix, McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel and Build-a-Bear and walked from Tallahassee to Atlanta, and later to Washington, D.C. It took him four months.
The ambitious projects drew praise from Elton John and Pamela Anderson, who donated $25,000 and $5,000 respectively. Kristy Rosier works for the Lazydays Partners Foundation and has worked with Zach since the beginning. Kristy says the 12-year-old is stoic, focused and unlike anyone she has ever partnered with.
“It’s like working with a 31-year-old,” she says. “Zach is the best.”
Laurie said she’s shocked at how far Zach has gone with the Little Red Wagon Foundation. Her only rule: “I’ve always told him that you can keep doing this as long as you’re having fun.”
And Zach has no plans to stop anytime soon. This December he’ll host Little Red Wagon’s third annual holiday party at Lazydays to benefit The Spring, a Tampa Bay organization that provides a sanctuary for abused adults and children. In May Zach will embark on a coast to coast, 2,500-mile walk to Los Angeles. Elton John has already promised $50,000.
As if things weren’t big enough, screenwriter Patrick Duncan is currently working on a script for a movie based on Zach’s life. Zach reacted to the news like he does to everything else: humbly and calmly. Laurie says Zach may not show it but he’s very proud of what he’s done.
“I never thought charity work would be such a life changer,” she says with a smile.
The Little Red Wagon Foundation helps raise awareness and funds for underprivileged children. To make a donation, visit www.LittleRedWagonFoundation.com to pay with Paypal or credit card. You can also mail donations to PO Box 2532 Valrico, FL 33595. Make checks payable to Little Red Wagon Foundation Inc.