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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mass. boy raising pennies for city’s homeless

One penny at a time, Aidan Feeney says, he plans to change the world for the better.

While many kids his age spend much of their time at play, Aidan, 8, is busy going door to door, posting on Facebook, passing out fliers and a handwritten campaign letter appealing to residents’ better angels in pursuit of copper coins. ...

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One penny at a time, Aidan Feeney says, he plans to change the world for the better.

While many kids his age spend much of their time at play, Aidan, 8, is busy going door to door, posting on Facebook, passing out fliers and a handwritten campaign letter appealing to residents’ better angels in pursuit of copper coins.

In what he calls his “Pennies for the Poor” charity drive, Aidan exchanges the pennies he collects for dollars to buy gifts and necessities to hand out to as many of the city’s homeless population as he can, said his mother Karen Feeney, who accompanies him.

With his donations, Aidan has purchased toiletries, socks, Dunkin Donuts gift cards and even Bibles because he said. “It gives them hope and it gives them joy.”

“It just feels good to do it, so I do it,” Aidan said from his parents’ living room recently. “It makes me feel tingly.”

He started the campaign about a year ago. Before that, he spearheaded an anti-littering campaign, said his mother.

With a desire to help more people, he turned to pennies.

What started out as one jar of pennies, has grown to about a dozen jars and water jugs on store counters and at his school, amassing what his parents have estimated to be hundreds of dollars’ worth of pennies.

Nearly every month, the petite third-grader carries his trove of coins to HarborOne Bank.

His father, Michael Feeney, a Brockton firefighter, said his son never ceases to amaze him.

“He comes up with these ideas on his own. He has a huge heart,” he said. “He gets it from his mother. He just wants to help anybody that he can. He’s willing to do whatever it takes.”

Aidan has called on many people in his life, from neighbors, to his former and current teachers and fellow members at South Shore Community Church, to donate their loose change. Friends from out of town have also donated checks and cash to his cause, which he changed to pennies only to convert back to cash, his mother said with a chuckle.

He recently stepped up collection efforts when he set up a table at the Shaw’s Supermarket on Crescent Street.

Jason Haffett, assistant store manager, said he didn’t hesitate to help with the boy’s mission.

“He’s just a good kid, with a good cause and he wanted to do it all on his own,” he said.

When she taught Aidan as a first-grader at the Mary E. Baker School, Joanne Gordon said she appreciated how compassionate and caring he was.

Of all his classmates, Gordon said, Aidan was always the first to say a kind word or think of a creative way to brighten somebody’s day.

“Children are caring by nature, but Aidan seems to just have a greater depth of caring,” she said. He showed just how much he did care when during her husband’s bout with an illness, he sent him pictures and ‘get well’ cards to cheer him up, she said.

When her husband died, she continued, Aidan attended the wake service.

“That took a lot of courage for a child his age,” said Gordon, who regularly sets aside pennies for her former student.

A naturally shy boy, Aidan speaks softly but with surety.

But on his missions to distribute goods and gifts near the homeless shelter Father Bill’s and Main Spring House or Perkins Park, a popular gathering place for the city’s downtrodden, he comes alive, said Karen Feeney, who is a paraprofessional at the Baker School.

“Get him on Main Street and he’s in his glory, talking to total strangers,” she said.

Older sister, Caitlin, 12, once joined her little brother on a trip and said she would like to do it again. His brother, Hunter, 15, said he is “impressed” by his younger sibling’s initiative.

But no one has been more moved by Aidan’s generosity than the people with whom he’s come in contact on the street, Karen Feeney said.

“One of them broke down in tears and told him that he was an amazing young man,” she said with a look of pride.

“I’m sure those people will remember him for the rest of their lives,” added his father, Michael.

With an arsenal of goods, he is in the process of filling backpacks with care packages, which he said he hopes to distribute soon. Ultimately, he hopes to collect enough pennies to buy and give out gifts every week.

“I’m proud because a bunch of people are smiling and give me speeches about why I should do good,” he said. “I enjoy it.”