Drew Sannes didn't want any boy in his third-grade class at Riverside Elementary School in Brainerd to feel left out, so he asked his parents, Jay and Brenda Sannes, if he could invite all the boys in his class to his birthday party.
But what surprised his parents most was when their 9-year-old son then decided he didn't want any birthday presents.
Instead of gifts, Drew wanted his friends to bring money to donate to the Crow Wing County United Way.
Drew's selfless birthday wish raised $115 for the United Way.
"I had stuff I needed and I didn't really need any more toys and games," Drew said. "I just wanted to help people so that other people got what they wanted."
Drew's actual birthday was Jan. 7, but the party was Jan. 16. Drew's mom, who is a fifth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in Brainerd, said one night they were sitting at their kitchen counter in their Nisswa home watching television news reports about the Asian tsunami disaster. They also had been discussing Drew's upcoming birthday party. The 9-year-old was captivated by a specific story about an entire Sri Lankan village that the tidal wave destroyed.
"He just sat there for a little while and he asked, 'Do kids always bring presents to parties?,'" Brenda Sannes said.
Sannes told her son that it is customary, but no, children didn't always have to bring presents to birthday parties. He then asked his mom if it was OK to ask people for money for your birthday. Sannes wondered what her son was thinking about and asked him what he would want to buy with birthday money.
Drew told her he would give the money to somebody who needed it.
While Drew thought about donating the money for Asian tsunami relief efforts, he wanted the money to remain in the Brainerd lakes area to help those in the community.
"I wanted the money to stay in town so I just picked the United Way," said Drew, who along with his classmates earlier had raised money for the United Way.
Along with his party invitation, Drew wrote a letter to each boy in Karen Schirmer's third-grade class. The letter explained that he was lucky to have great friends. He said he didn't really need any toys or games but it would be great if they wanted to bring money to give to the United Way.
Drew was amazed when he counted the money his classmates gave him and discovered he had $115 to give to the United Way. His father, a seventh-grade science teacher at Forestview Middle School, gave the donation to Randy Hansen, a Forestview assistant principal and president of the Crow Wing County United Way board.
"I'm very happy because we're just helping other people," said Drew.
Drew hopes he can inspire other youths to reach out and help others.
Drew loves hockey and was happy when one of his classmates not only gave him a donation to the United Way but also a coupon for a sleepover at his house and a night out to attend a Brainerd Warriors hockey game. And a few classmates gave Drew items like a book and stuffed animal, along with a donation.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.