This 10-year-old has done more to help the homeless in the last year than most people do in their entire lives
By Eva Posner
From the time he was in preschool, Wyatt Phillips, 10, has had an intense amount of compassion for the homeless.
“Whenever I see a homeless person it just makes me very sad,” he says. “No person should have to go through that. I just want to do something to help them.”
His mother recalls when he was three years old, he saw a homeless man on the side of the road.
“We had just gone through the drive through at Wendy’s. He said to me, ‘Mommy, turn around. I want to give him my food.’ And he did. He handed a perfect stranger his kid’s meal. I was astounded.”
In most ways, Wyatt is a normal 10-year-old boy. He is a 5th grader at Lemon Avenue Elementary in La Mesa where his favorite class is science. He wants to grow up to be a marine biologist so he can “go to Antarctica and study penguins.” He loves marshal arts, Scooby Doo, and his pets: two dogs, a rabbit, and a hamster.
But when it comes to providing a helping hand, Wyatt is no ordinary little boy.
About a year ago, Wyatt went to his mother and told her there had to be something more he could do to help. After some brainstorming he decided the best thing to do would be to supply homeless people with some of the items that most people take for granted. That night, he made a list of the six items he thought most essential, and Wyatt’s Wish was born.
The idea is fantastically simple, yet profound: Make care packages full of things people use in daily life, and drive around the community handing them out to those who need them most.
The list of items has gradually grown over time, and no two batches of boxes are exactly alike. The contents vary based on donated items, available funds, and little bits of Wyatt’s personality that come in the form of a ribbon he picks out at the store or some confetti he added during the holidays “to give people hope.”
“I call him my little Yoda,” says Beth. “He’s an old soul and he’s here to teach me something—to teach our whole family something.
Supply and Demand
Preparing the care packages is an exercise in logistics that transforms the Phillips family coffee table into an assembly line Henry Ford would be proud of.
A beaming Wyatt shows off his supplies.
“We have soap, combs, shampoo and conditioner, toilet paper, wet wipes, ponchos, and emergency blankets,” he says pointing to each object. The list went on as he described the 24 items that he and his mother, Beth, pack into each of the boxes they hand out to homeless people in San Diego.
“And last but certainly not least, socks!” says Wyatt, holding up a pair of thick white socks that could keep feet warm even in the Polar Vortex.
“He wanted to give them all a new pair of shoes,” said Beth. “But the logistics of that was too difficult, so we make sure there is a pair of high quality thick socks in every box.”
Beth said it’s been a learning experience to get supplies. Finding a distributor with the most economical price while simultaneously providing something quality has taken a lot of research and some trial and error. Even so, Wyatt’s Wish has already gotten bigger than she ever imagined.
Wyatt’s Wish is not yet a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, but that development is on the horizon. Beth is hopeful to get it done by April so she can start giving tax receipts out to donors.
“This cause is so dear to him, “ says Beth. “I want it to get as big as he wants it to. It’s about seeing his goals get to fruition as well as being able to give back to those who help us.”
But becoming a nonprofit is expensive. Filing for nonprofit status from the IRS can cost up to $850. That doesn’t take into account all the other fees that come with opening a business on the state level.
The Phillips often draw from family funds to make sure each care package has everything it needs. They occasionally take groceries from their cabinet to fill out the supply.
“Sometimes my dad will stop on his way home to pick something up if we run out,” Wyatt says. And while the boxes are being packed, Beth has to take a bottle of water from her husband’s stash for work to meet demand.
“When we do get donations and we are running low on supplies, that’s where the money goes,” says Beth. “At least we know we are helping who we can.”
Wyatt’s efforts have caught the eye of Interim Mayor Todd Gloria.
“Wyatt shares my passion for ending homelessness,” Gloria said. “It is encouraging to see our young people show compassion and a real sense of social responsibility when it comes to those less fortunate. I applaud him and any San Diegan who takes a moment to offer a kind word, gesture or help to someone in need.”
Other San Diegans are taking notice too.
Fofie Bashir, an employee of Alliance San Diego, told Wyatt that he “made her day” when she found out what he was doing.
The 100th package
Today, Jan. 28, is the one-year anniversary of the Wyatt’s Wish Facebook page, which Wyatt and his mother consider the official start date of their project.
“I didn’t put it up there thinking people would want to donate,” said Beth. “I just wanted to show, ‘Hey, look what my son is doing!’ I’m so proud of him.”
Support swept in from family and friends, and eventually from people all over the country. With the encouragement and donations they were getting, Wyatt’s Wish set a goal for the year to deliver 100 packages.
About a week before their deadline, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day– celebrated country wide with community service projects and acts of charity—Wyatt and Beth depleted many of their supplies creating the final 14 boxes they needed to reach their goal.
Throughout the week two of the boxes were handed out. By Monday the Phillips were still 12 packages short of 100.
Wyatt and Beth packed up the remaining boxes and headed downtown. Pulling a red wagon full of care packages, bottles of water, and baskets of food, toys and treats for the dogs, Wyatt crossed Civic Center Plaza looking for those in need.
Although most people walking through the plaza ignored the group of homeless people that had gathered near Third Avenue, Wyatt headed straight for them.
As he handed out the packages one by one, including extra goodies for the dogs, a chorus of “thank you” and “bless you” rang through the air. Music to Wyatt’s ears. Beth beamed with pride while holding back tears.
One woman told Wyatt that he made her feel blessed.
“It’s amazing to see a child even pay attention to the homeless,” said Rayonna, who has been homeless on and off for five years. “And to see a mom react this way instead of pushing him away from us. It’s beautiful. It’s something we don’t see every day.”
Rayonna is five and a half months pregnant and trying to get off the street in time to have her baby. She lives in fear that if she doesn’t, Child Protective Services will take her newborn away.
“I am a good person,” she said. “I’m not a drug addict, alcoholic, or criminal. I had everything stolen from me. Everything. And now I’m afraid my baby will be stolen too because I don’t have a roof to put her under.”
Rayonna told stories of hardships herself and her friends have gone through, emphasizing, “it’s rough out here.”
“You put a lot of smiles on a lot of faces today,” she told Wyatt. “That means so much to us with what we’ve all gone through. A lot of people don’t bother.”
“You’re just people like everybody else,” Wyatt replied. “Don’t let anyone make you feel different.”
“Thank you, Wyatt,” she said with a catch in her throat.
When asked how it feels to have given out his 100th package, Wyatt expressed bittersweet emotions.
“It’s just really heart warming and I’m glad I got to help people,” he says. “But it makes me very sad to see how many homeless people there actually are.” That sentiment became apparent when a woman walked up and Wyatt had already given out all the boxes. He was visibly shaken by not being able to help her.
It just makes him more determined to help more people.
“We can pass out another 100 packages in the next year,” he said in excitement. Beth suggested making a goal of 200.
Whatever the new goal turns out to be, Wyatt and Beth are clearly moved by the work they are doing and are excited to keep going. Seeing the thought and the love that goes into each package it becomes obvious that the Wyatt’s Wish motto rings true to both of them. They just want to help the homeless. One care package at a time.
Anyone wishing to donate to Wyatt’s Wish can do so through PayPal, using the email firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can also be sent to PO Box 2801, Spring Valley CA, 91979.