KNIGHTDALE — Forest Southwick’s first taste of empathy came at his kitchen table.
That’s where his mother, Kimberly Sauls, sat one afternoon last spring after a day of handing out meals to the poor at Moore Square in Raleigh.
“She was looking gloomy,” said Forest, who was 10 years old at the time. “You could tell by her body language she was depressed.”
Sauls’ day volunteering with the nonprofit Brown Bag Ministry had ended like it normally does: when the charity runs out of food. But that day, several young children at the back of the line went home empty-handed, she said.
“The thought of those kids going hungry,” Sauls recalled, fighting back tears, “I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
Neither could her son. Forest had picked up trash along the Neuse River with his Boy Scout troop in 2011. But that night in May 2012, Forest made it his mission to raise money and resources to help the needy.
“God wanted me to,” the 11-year-old said.
Forest has done most of his work through the Brown Bag Ministry, an Apex-based nonprofit that provides free meals to thousands in the Triangle each week. The Wendell Middle School sixth grader raised money by doing yard work around his house and neighborhood.
Earlier this year, Kohl’s took notice. In May, the Knightdale store rewarded Forest’s community service with a $50 gift card through its Kohl’s Cares Scholarship program.
In June, Kohl’s announced that Forest Southwick was one of 194 children to receive a $1,000 grant toward his secondary education. More than 35,000 children were nominated nationwide. Winners were chosen based on their initiative, leadership, generosity and the impact their projects had on the community.
Vienna sausages and toys
In June 2012, Forest fed more than 150 people by giving away five cases of Vienna sausages in downtown Raleigh. Last December, he bought dozens of coloring books, board games, basketballs and footballs and gave them away to more than 100 needy children in a south Raleigh neighborhood.
Forest’s toy donation was “extremely unusual” for volunteers of any age, said David Legarth, board chairman of Brown Bag Ministry.
“It’s very impressive that somebody this young would come up with an idea and then follow through … with something that dramatic,” he said. “We’re always in need of more volunteers and donations.”
Forest is all business when talking about the community service projects he’s completed with the Boy Scouts. He can recite the meaning of all the badges on his uniform.
But he smiles – dimples showing – when he thinks about handing an 8-year-old boy a new football for Christmas.
“That’s all he wanted, he didn’t even want the food we brought,” Forest said.
He considers it his job to let the poor know “the Lord loves them,” he said.
“I just wanna see them smile.”