Cavanaugh Bell stands just slightly taller than the tires on the 53-foot semitrailer he and his mother filled with thousands of pounds of supplies. Although Cavanaugh, 7, appeared tiny next to the towering truck, it was his big idea to load it with essentials for people in need — more than 1,500 miles away from his Maryland home. It has been his mission since the pandemic started, and he says it’s in response to some ruthless bullying he experienced.
“After I was bullied and I felt a darkness inside of me, I knew I didn’t want other kids to feel the same way I felt,” he wrote on his GoFundMe page. “So, I asked my mom if she could help me spread love and positivity. And, the more I gave back to my community, the more I wanted to keep doing it.”
At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic in March, Cavanaugh — who lives in Gaithersburg with his mother, aunt, and cousins — was focused on helping the local community in the Maryland suburb. He created care packages with toiletries and groceries for elderly people using his own savings of birthday and Christmas money. Eventually, fueled by donations, he and his mother opened a food pantry at a nearby warehouse that a logistics company offered to let them use.
With the success of the food pantry, Cavanaugh, who is in second grade, shifted his efforts to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota — home to some of the poorest communities in the country. He and his mother, Llacey Simmons, 35, had passed through the reservation on a road trip two years ago.
“My mom explained to me that people live on the reservation, anelectricity or running water.”
Since Cavanaugh’s food pantry was thriving and donations were pouring in through GoFundMe and Amazon Wish List pages, he decided to reach out once more asking for essential supplies for Pine Ridge.
Donations flooded in, and Cavanaugh and his mother managed to fill an entire truck with canned and nonperishable foods, hygiene products, cleaning supplies, and other critical items worth about $20,000 in total. Using donations from Cavanaugh’s GoFundMe, Simmons arranged for a driver to transport the goods, which cost $3,500.
Simmons reached out to the director of a nonprofit organization on the reservation to let them know their plan to send a load of supplies. Alice Phelps, director of First Families Now, was thrilled.
“I grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and I’ve seen firsthand the need and struggle,” said Phelps, who was a teacher for several years and then a school principal on the reservation.
Cavanaugh sent the first delivery July 10. The reservation was so grateful, he said, that he decided to do it again.