Roanoke, VA - Roanoke charity Bookbag Santa prepares to celebrate 25 years of service fighting poverty, while at the same time, protecting the environment.
Gary Hunt took a friend's advice to visit the Central American country of Belize 25 years ago. Hunt immediately fell in love with the country as he bonded with a family that had small children; a bond that would change Hunt's life forever as gifts of pencils and toys to that family began to snowball.
"After awhile I got to be bringing more stuff than their kids needed. They'd bring them to school and share them and then I got requests from other schools," said Hunt.
One trip a year, every year since, and Hunt is now supplying a handful of schools in Belize with one ton of supplies a year; a second ton collected usually for kids in this area.
All through his charity Bookbag Santa.
"We've got one school that has 150 kids and they are so small that the government gives one pencil and one spiral binder per student, per year," said Hunt
His donations come from all over, but mostly from a dozen schools in Roanoke where he sets up recycling containers.
"American kids run for the door when the bell rings and they just fling everything. I mean pens, pencils, three ring binders, calculators. We've gotten laptops a couple of times," said Hunt.
Which leads to success for Hunt's other big passion: Environmental awareness.
To him keeping two tons of stuff out of the landfill every year is just as big of a deal - even if it's really just a drop in the bucket.
"All the way from kindergarten to college. Then you start multiplying going up to all 50 states. I can't add up that many zeros. I can't imagine where it all goes," said Hunt.
Just last week after making the finals three years in a row, Hunt's non-profit won a free vehicle from Toyota to help in his collection duties.
Part of an annual contest the company runs that allows people to vote for their favorite charities with 100 of them, across the country, winning such a prize.