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Never too young to make a difference

By: Dave Williams
February 9, 2012
Memphis Roetter does all the things normal little kids do, but what he does on his birthdays prove people are...

Upon first meeting Memphis Roetter, one would think there’s nothing atypical about this 6-year-old kid.

Like most children his age, he has a seemingly endless reserve of energy coupled with a short attention span, which often tires out a set of parents. And, in the tradition of children everywhere, he can make a toy out of just about anything in sight.

While sitting with his parents – Juli and Chuck Roetter – at the Redwood Café in Cotati, Roetter used individual packets of sugar as football players and played his own little Super Bowl game.

Life for Roetter, however, is about a lot more than fun and games. For the past four years, the Roetters have turned Memphis’ birthday into an opportunity to raise money for various charities.

Benefiting REFB

Memphis, now working to benefit the Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB), has a goal of providing 7,735 meals for those in need. Memphis, who attends Charter School for the Arts in Santa Rosa, turns 7 on Feb. 26.

“Three years ago, we just all decided as a family it was a good idea to do something like this for his birthday,” Juli Roetter said.

“Instead of gifts, we’d just think of a charity he could raise money for. And he’s really enjoyed doing the food bank. He really gets excited to look in his barrels and see what people have dropped off at the locations where we have barrels.”

The Roetters lived in Cotati at one time, now reside in northwest Santa Rosa, and they have made it a point to place food barrels for drop-offs in Cotati at the Redwood Café and Café Salsa.

They also have barrels located throughout Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

Memphis got the idea of raising money as a student at the Early Learning Institute, where he noticed school supplies were lacking.
Memphis, his father said, asked how they could get school supplies. When his next birthday rolled around, the invitation to Memphis’ birthday party requested donations for the school. And that birthday party raised $300 for the supplies.

The following year, when living in Cotati, they learned the city’s recreation department was in need of funds for the annual Kids’ Day Parade. Through Memphis’ efforts, $850 was raised and donated for the parade.

In 2011, Memphis raised $1,790, which equated to 862 pounds of food or 5,585 meals. The year before, he raised 708 meals (453 pounds of food).

It’s an easy process

The process, Memphis says, is simple.

“They give their dollars to me, and that means I get to buy meals and give food to the local people,” said Memphis, in one of the rare moments he sat still for a few moments and talked.

These totals serve as a sense of pride for Memphis because his total surpassed that of a local Toyota car dealer. And he wants to do the same this year.

“He talks a lot about the Toyota thing,” Chuck Roetter said. “I think that’s the catalyst that set this thing in motion for him. The first year was really a network of friends and family. Then, we read this article about the Toyota Dealership and he was like, ‘I want to do more than they did.’”

That prompted the Roetters to expand their scope and begin fundraising throughout the county.

“It’s expanded beyond people who would normally give him a gift on his birthday,” Juli Roetter said.

Juli was quick to point out that her only child is not deprived of gifts on his birthday. Between his grandparents and parents, Memphis is not lacking for items to play with.

Can he be cloned?

Billy Bartz, Food Drive and Events Coordinator at REFB, would love to have about a hundred kids like Memphis as part of the food drive.
“This is his third year now, so he knows how things work and he knows about the food bank,” Bartz said. “He’s the most successful young fundraiser we’ve seen. He’s going to be a model for what birthday food drives can be. He’s set the bar pretty high for what a young person can do in the community.”

Some parents have named their children after the city in which they were conceived. But that wasn’t the case with the Roetters, who had never been to Memphis before their son was born. The family has visited Memphis twice since he was born.

“We actually wanted an unusual name and we loved the meaning of it,” Juli said. “It means established and beautiful. We thought that was really cool.”

Memphis’ parents also emphasize that although they provide their son with help in certain areas where he’s too young, Memphis remains the driving force behind the fundraising efforts.

“He puts in a good amount of time and effort,” Chuck said. “He writes his thank you responses, but I have to type them. We talk about everybody who donated. He did a Shrinkie Dink project for those who donated a big amount. He’s going to do paintings for large donors this year.”

Anyone wishing to donate can do so on Memphis’ behalf directly to REFB. For more information, go to www.memphisfooddrive.com.