Seven-year-old Eli Bass is a little shy when it comes to asking girls to dance.

So shy, his mom says, it took a little persuading to get him to dance at a wedding a few months ago.

Typically, his mom, Season, would gladly step in as his dance partner, but a minor injury left her sidelined, preventing her from dancing the night away. So instead, she tried coaxing him into asking someone else, but the first-grader wouldn’t budge. Eventually, Season told him that if he asked someone to dance, she’d reward him. By the end of the night, Eli earned $8.

But during the car ride home, Eli told his parents something they didn’t expect. Instead of spending the money on himself, he wanted to give it to the homeless.

Proud and still a little amazed, Eli’s father, Rod, decided to share the moment on his Facebook page. Rod explained how Eli wanted to donate the money he made to a homeless person, and asked his friends to let him know if they knew someone in need of a meal.

“He's incredibly worried about them, and he wants them to know someone still cares,” Rod posted.

The post was shared by a friend, and soon, other friends were contacting Rod, wanting to donate.

“It was definitely a very proud parent moment,” Season said in a post. “Luckily, we have many of those very proud parent moments. Teaching others to care and love other people feels impossible sometimes, but then your children show you exactly how it is done. My heart is full.”

Eventually, Eli raised $108, which was matched by his parents. Even a classmate donated the $12 he earned through chores to the cause.

Not knowing what to do with the money, the Bass family reached out to individuals at Hope House, a local resource providing food, clothing and even housing assistance to individuals in need. After explaining their situation, Mary Lois Yates, Hope House coordinator, found a couple she believed would benefit from the family’s donation.

And last week, Eli got his wish. With his parents and 13-year-old brother, Peyton, by his side, the little boy personally donated the money - all $216 - to Heather and James Cox.

“This is one of the best things that’s happened to us in a long time,” James said. “Your little boy has a good heart.”

The couple has experienced homelessness for several years now. This time, they’ve been without a permanent home since May. The night before it was 20 degrees, but luckily they were able to stay with family.

“It’s made us closer,” Heather said. “We’re a team. We have to depend on each other now.”

“We’re not giving up,” he said.

But they aren’t alone. James said a makeshift camp outside the city limits has at least 25-30 homeless people staying there at any given time.

Leigh Hanson, interim executive director/CEO of the United Way of Franklin County Association, says homelessness is not a new problem in Franklin County.

“We have been working for over two years with a countywide homelessness coalition to address the problem,” Hanson said. “There are 197 precariously homeless students in USD 290, and ECKAN as well as several other member agencies work with numerous homeless families on a daily basis. We are working on providing a temporary, emergency shelter on the coldest nights this winter when a person wouldn’t be able to survive in their car or a tent.”

 

To raise money, the United Way is selling T-shirts for a $10 donation for the shelter. The group is also marching in today’s (Saturday) Veterans Day parade and passing donation containers along the route. Hanson is also accepting 9 X 13 casseroles in disposable pans from noon-1 p.m. Nov. 15 in the parking lot behind Bank Midwest. She’s also looking for individuals to donate granola bars and baked goods that can be frozen as part of a mock shelter at 2 p.m. Nov. 15 at 1516 N. Davis Rd.

Hanson said the group is also looking for sponsors for the group’s winter tailgate olympics from 2-5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19, at Wilson Field House on the Ottawa University campus. Sponsorships start at $100, and all proceeds go to establishing the temporary pop-up shelter.

“It would be great advertising for a business who wants to sponsor and help the community at the same time,” she said.

For Yates, homelessness is a problem she sees nearly every day.

“It’s hard when someone has a need, and we have very limited resources,” she said. “What it will take is everyone working together, but something like this (Eli’s donation) is something, and it’s got to start somewhere.”

To learn more about the Nov. 15 event or are interested in training to be a volunteer, email Hanson at United.way.of.franklin.co@gmail.com.