An 8-year-old boy from Maryland is helping veterans get back on their feet one care package at a time.
Tyler Stallings was just four years old when he felt compelled to help veterans in need, his mother, Andrea Blackstone, explained to Good Morning America.
At the time, Blackstone had shown Tyler a few online videos about veterans to teach him about what some of his relatives who enlisted in the military had done. Soon, they came across a video that focused on veterans who struggle with homelessness
“He saw videos of veterans holding signs to no one responding to their cry for help and he thought this isn’t right. He didn’t like it,” Blackstone recalled. “He asked me, ‘If they’re heroes why should they be on the street?’ “
While Tyler initially wanted to build houses for the vets by purchasing supplies from a hardware store, Blackstone instead contacted Gov. Larry Hogan, who gave the boy a $100 grant to put to good use.
But that single donation ballooned into a mission that Tyler has carried on for four years. He soon joined the Maryland Center for Veteran Education and Training and became an advocate to raise awareness about the struggles of veterans after their service is complete.
“It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but it turned into an all the time event,” Blackstone told GMA.
Tyler then came up with the idea for “Hero Bags,” which are packs filled with clothes, bath products, food and bedding, which he could pass out to homeless veterans.
“When my mom said we couldn’t build homes for the veterans, I came up with an idea where we could give them Hero Bags,” Tyler said in an interview with GoFundMe. “The bags have clothes, shoes, snacks, toiletries, soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, shaving gel, hand sanitizer — all the regular things people need.”
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“At first, it was hard for people to take a four-year-old seriously,” Blackstone told GoFundMe. “It took me a while to find a shelter that would let him come in and help. But when shelters like MCVET finally did, they loved having him there.”
“It’s nice to have a child in an environment like that,” she added. “We would take them care packages with toiletries and grooming products to thank people for their service, and they would take whatever they needed.”
While he has done so much, Tyler still wants to do more.
“They should have the things they need because of all the good thing they’ve done for our country,” Tyler told GMA of his efforts. “It makes me feel very happy and very good when they have a happy reaction.”
According to a December 2018 Department of Housing and Urban Development report, there are roughly 553,000 people who are homeless in the United States. About 65 percent of them are able to stay in shelters or transitional housing programs, but 35 percent either live on the streets, in abandoned buildings or “in other places not suitable for human habitation.”
The National Alliance to End Homelessness lists many reasons that someone may end up homeless, such as racial disparities, income, housing affordability and mental illness. Some people may become homeless after escaping a violent relationship, they reported.