Six-year-old Luke Shaull was so affected by images of Hurricane Sandy's devastation that all he could do was bury his face in a couch pillow and cry. But once his tears subsided, Luke's grief transformed into motivation and the first-grader decided to take action. With a shoebox, some art supplies, and the generosity of family, neighbors and his congregation, the young member of St. John's United Church of Christ in Red Lion, Pa., has raised nearly $1,300 for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.
"The whole driving force was completely him," said Lee Shaull, the church's music director, of his son's idea. "He is so genuine and has such a heart of gold. He just wants everyone to be happy."
Luke was initially inspired by the Hurricane Sandy telethon, which aired Nov. 2 on NBC. By the time he went to bed that night, he had a shoebox decorated and ready to go, with a hole cut out of the lid for the money to go into. He asked his grandparents for donations the next day, and told his dad that he would like to take the box to church on Sunday. After a conversation with the church pastor and the mission and outreach committee chair, it was decided that Luke's idea was a perfect way for St. John's UCC to get involved in the storm's relief efforts.
After a few words from Luke about the goal of his project, where he told everyone how he "cried and cried," congregation members were teary eyed and ready to contribute. Some people wrote checks. One woman had Luke take the lid off of his shoebox so she could empty every last coin from her wallet into it. Those who were unprepared asked Luke to bring his donation box back the following week so they could be sure to donate then.
"After service, Luke stood in the lobby with his box and people just poured out money," Lee said. "It was unbelievable how people responded."
Luke left that Sunday's service with $717. He has since collected $568 more – nearly $1,300 in just a few short weeks. The money will be sent through St. John's UCC to fund Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Neighbors and friends outside of the church have also contributed as word of Luke's efforts spreads around the area, and Lee said the family will continue to take donations and forward them to those in need as long as they continue to come in.
"There is so much need in the New York and New Jersey areas," he said. "It would be foolish to turn [donations] away if folks want to give."
Lee credits Luke's drive to his outgoing and active personality. And even though Luke was the inspiration behind all of this generosity, Lee says his son just wants to say "thank you" to everyone who has helped and to those who continue to help.
"He is a little firecracker," Lee said. "He is a special little boy to us."