One Roswell boy’s desire to help the homeless in the community has led to a greater effort that will help a local organization establish an emergency shelter and possibly even motivate other youth.
Last year, as the pandemic set in, 7-year-old Rex Putman noticed there seemed to be more homeless people in Roswell.
“Rex is pretty observant and very curious,” his mother, Ryann Putman, said in a telephone interview.
“And so he just started asking questions about it, so we talked about what it meant to be homeless and the different reasons people might be homeless,” she said.
At home, Rex has a canister where he keeps money he earns from chores or change he finds. It’s divided into three sections — spend, save and share.
“A little while later, he told me that he put some money in the share and he wanted to use it to help the homeless,” Ryann Putman said.
At one point, Rex bought beef jerky sticks, a favorite snack of his, to give to a homeless person, she said, but he kept saving money.
The year prior, Rex had saved $79 to buy a programmable robot, but this year there wasn’t anything he wanted to buy for himself, she said.
“I don’t have anything I want to buy right now,” Rex said.
By Christmas, Rex had saved $53. He decided to keep a $2 bill he had been given by his grandmother and donate the rest. Unsure of exactly what to do with the money, they turned to Roswell Community Disaster Relief Services. Ryann Putman recorded a video of Rex explaining that he had saved his money and asking what was needed to help the homeless.
Enrique Moreno, director of Roswell Community Disaster Relief Services, said he soon met with Rex and Ryann Putman and, although Rex was a bit shy, saw an opportunity.
“I remembered how I got started in disaster relief with my own vehicle. I started from the bottom up and it took a lot for me to just realize that there was a lot of good people that could back me up,” Moreno said.
He asked Ryann Putman’s permission to share Rex’s story on his organization’s Facebook page and start an online fundraiser, The Rex Mission of Hope, to grow his efforts.
“He can learn that people will back up his dream and even next year, if he wants to do something different with another group, he can do it,” Moreno said.
Rex was pretty excited to see the donations coming in, his mother said.
“Every time that he got a donation, we’d tell him and he actually did a little happy dance and said ‘Yay,’” she said.
“Everybody was encouraging him and that’s exactly what I wanted for him to see, that he’s part of a bigger picture,” Moreno said.
Rex wanted to know when the total would pass each $100 increment, his mother said. Then the total went over $1,000.
“It took a little bit longer to process the number,” Ryann Putman said. They looked up pictures on the internet of what $1,000 in cash would look like to help him understand.
“It looked like a stack of $100 bills,” Rex said, answering 10 when his mother asked him how many.
While many of the donors were people the Putmans knew or chose to remain anonymous, it was by chance Rex got to meet one of the donors they didn’t know.
Rex had gone to Goodwill with his father, Jared Putman, to donate some items. His father noticed the employee who took their donations had the same name as one of the donors on the online fundraiser and asked the employee if he had made the donation. He said yes and Jared Putman asked if he’d like to meet Rex, who was in the car.
“He came outside and Rex got to meet him and they spoke for a minute. And he said he thought that it was very important and he appreciated it because he, himself, used to be homeless,” Ryann Putman said.
In just a few days, the fundraiser brought in just over $2,000.
Moreno told the Putmans they could purchase what they wanted from an online wishlist his organization had set up, but they decided to let Moreno choose how to use the money.
Moreno has been working to establish an emergency shelter and said the fundraiser was a great help.
“We were really struggling even though we did get support from people buying cots for us,” he said. “There was a high-ticket item, which was an industrial air buffer.”
The HEPA filter is a requirement for shelters, especially now in the pandemic, Moreno said, but it cost more than $1,000.
“He definitely helped us out because that air scrubber is something we wouldn’t have been able to procure, especially now with COVID that everybody’s hurting. We can’t just go ask a sponsor to cover the cost of something that big,” he said.
With the remaining funds, Roswell Community Disaster Relief Services purchased another 12 cots for the shelter. All cots that are donated for the shelter will sport tags with a dedication to the donor, and those dozen will be dedicated to Rex, Moreno said.
Another $400 or so from the fundraiser will be used to purchase food and other items for the homeless, Moreno said.
Moreno said he is also going to start a new effort for children who want to help others called “51 for Hope,” named for the original $51 Rex raised.
“We’re going to allow children in the community who want to do things like Rex to submit their story. It doesn’t have to be for our organization if they want to support another organization. There’s a lot of great ones in town,” Moreno said.
“We’re going to show our support and we’re going to donate $51 to start them off and we’re just going to keep on paying it forward over and over and over to do the same thing that we did with Rex and encourage other kids,” he said.
Ryann Putman said Rex would like to continue to help others and as health order restrictions begin to ease, the family plans to look for opportunities where they can volunteer their time.
“He has more courage than a lot of people I’ve seen, even though he comes across as being shy. He’s definitely an inspiration and I’m happy to know that whenever I get older, there’s going to be people like Rex that are going to be out there doing what I do,” Moreno said.
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