'Donating makes me feel good': Fifth-grader collects more than 100 bags of food and toys for pantry
A 10-year-old Libertyville boy assumed the role of Santa on Thursday, delivering more than 100 bags of food and toys he collected for those in need.
Roark Nietzel's and his mom, Anastasia Thermos, emptied their packed dining room -- and part of the garage -- Thursday afternoon, filled three vehicles and brought the bounty to the Libertyville Township food pantry.
"I jokingly told Roark we need to borrow Santa's sleigh to deliver these items," Thermos said.
Instead of gifts for his past few birthdays, Roark has asked friends to bring nonperishable food to donate. He kicked the campaign up a notch for the holidays.
"For my birthday we donate to the food pantry," he said. "One day, I was like, 'Why not do it for Christmas?'"
He crafted a letter of introduction and emailed it to neighbors, telling them he wanted to do a food drive and asking they bring items to his house.
"It was very endearing. You never know what people's reactions would be," Thermos said. "I'm overwhelmed by everyone's generosity."
Their neighborhood's homeowners association already has asked him to do it next year, she added.
Township Supervisor Kathleen O'Connor said demand has increased in recent weeks, possibly in response to inflation. The pantry is serving an average 75 to 85 households per week, compared with 55 to 65 at the beginning of the year, she added.
O'Connor said she heard from a neighbor that Roark is the only child in his neighborhood and did a wonderful job explaining the need for food in the community.
"Roark is a pretty incredible young man," she added. "What has struck me most about Roark is he developed such a strong empathy for the needs of others at a very young age."
Besides paper products, canned goods, pastas and other items, he brought a large donation of paper bags, which are used to distribute food at the pantry. He also used $100 of his savings to buy toys.
"Donating makes me feel good," he said.
Thermos said the tradition of giving started about four years ago when rather than gifts, he asked for nonperishable food for the township pantry.
"We have conversations about that. We say, 'We're very fortunate and it's good to give back,'" she said.
Thermos says Roark may have first noticed her paying it forward by buying a coffee for the customer behind her at the drive-up window. But the food drive was his baby.
"This is all his doing," she said.