7-year-old opens food pantry amid the pandemic: 'It's so important for me to help my community'

Megan Sims
·5 mins read
Cavanaugh Bell is using his experiences being bullied as motivation to help people of all ages and backgrounds. (Photo: Cool & Dope)
Cavanaugh Bell is using his experiences being bullied as motivation to help people of all ages and backgrounds. (Photo: Cool & Dope)

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in March, 7-year-old Cavanaugh Bell was worried about his grandmother.

“She's like my best friend and I didn't want her to catch the coronavirus,” he tells Yahoo Life. “So, I asked my mom if we could go grocery shopping for her so she wouldn’t have to leave her house to get what she needed.”

After helping his grandmother, the Gaithersburg, Md., native realized that other seniors at her assisted living facility would also need assistance, so he used his savings to create care packages for them.

Working with his mother, Llacey Simmons, Cavanaugh created a GoFundMe aimed at helping his community during a difficult time.

“During this coronavirus pandemic, it is scary and it feels like the world is coming to an end, but I know with love we can get through this together,” he writes on the fundraising page. “So, with all of my savings from three birthdays and two Christmases, I made 68 care packs for senior citizens so they could have what they needed to feel safe. And, then I used some money that was left to buy 31 hot meals for the elderly. And, then I wanted to give back even more, so I went to social media and asked for donations.”

“I didn’t even know that people who didn’t know me would help me and the first time my mom told me I got a donation, I think I ran around the house screaming,” Cavanaugh says. “And then they kept coming in and it was so cool. Like better than Christmas, especially because I knew that I could help even more people.”

Llacey says that once donations starting coming in, she and her son partnered with an office supply company to get shipments of toilet paper and toiletries for the food pantry. Brawny even sponsored the pantry and sent 1,000 paper towels. Cavanaugh’s basketball coach allowed the mother-son duo to use his gym space, which they soon outgrew. They then moved operations to a small warehouse, which was donated by a local business.

With the food pantry quickly growing, Llacey admits that as a single mom, she was not sure how she was going to support her son’s efforts.

“His original goal was to help 1,000 people and I remember when he told me that, I tried to convince him that 1,000 people might be hard for us to do,” she tells Yahoo Life. “But fast forward seven months later and he's helped over 8,100 people! Cavanaugh is a constant reminder for me of what you can achieve when you believe in yourself.”

“It’s so important for me to help my community because I know that we are going through some hard times and there are a lot of people who don't have what they need,” he says.

In July, Cavanaugh took his efforts further by donating food and care packages to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, filling a whole semi-truck with essential items. The reservation is home to a number of the poorest communities in the U.S., according to the nonprofit organization Re-Member.

Cavanaugh stands by the semitruck he and his mother Llacey worked to stock with donations for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. (Photo: Cool & Dope)
Cavanaugh stands by the semitruck he and his mother Llacey worked to stock with donations for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. (Photo: Cool & Dope)

Cavanaugh’s acts of kindness came after he was being bullied in school.

“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 the 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.”

Llacey says she was “heartbroken” when she learned about what her son was going through.

“As a parent, you want nothing but to protect your child,” she says. “And when you hear that they're being bullied or mistreated in any way, you feel like you’ve failed them. I was so thankful that he opened up to me and was able to tell me what he was feeling so that we could work together to get him the support he needed.”

Cavanaugh has since become an outspoken advocate against bullying. He and his mother established a nonprofit, Cool & Dope, in Jan. 2019, which provides resources to teachers and support to bullied kids. He recently held a virtual event called “Kids Rally Against Bullying,” and also walked 13 miles to stop bullying.

The young advocate also met with political officials to make October Bullying Awareness Month in Montgomery County, Md.

Llacey hopes her son’s story encourages others to create change.

“We all can have an impact no matter our age,” she says. “Even when you don't think you have anything to give, we all do have something we can give to help each other. Even if it's time or a smile, we all have a part to play.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

Read more from Yahoo Life:

Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.