TAMPA, Fla. — At age 11, Zach Bonner has already walked farther and done more for charity than many grown-ups.
Now he's about to make good on his vow to walk more than 1,200 miles from Tampa to Washington to bring attention to the plight of homeless kids in the United States.
The boy with the spiky red hair came up with the idea in 2007, then hiked nearly 300 miles from his home near Tampa to the state capital, Tallahassee. Last year, he walked another 270 miles or so from Tallahassee to Atlanta.
On Monday he'll set out for the final and most demanding leg of the journey, well over 600 miles from Atlanta to Washington. He figures it'll take about two months.
Zach expects to cover around 11 miles a day. Along the way, he'll collect donations and letters from people urging President Barack Obama to take more action to alleviate homelessness among children. He's contacted the White House about meeting with Obama, but has yet to hear back.
"I just decided I wanted to do something big," the soft-spoken fifth-grader said earlier this week.
Zach became a local celebrity of sorts at age 7 when he pulled his red wagon around his neighborhood collecting bottled water and food for victims of Hurricane Charley, which hit Florida in August 2004. He ended up sending 27 pickup truck loads of stuff.
Once he started helping people, especially kids, he couldn't stop. He put together and distributed about 1,200 backpacks full of toiletries, food and other necessities for homeless kids. Now he even has his own registered nonprofit charity, the Little Red Wagon Foundation Inc.
"My plan is to help as many kids as I can, have fun and keep it simple," he says on the Web site.
President George W. Bush found out about Zach's work and gave him a Presidential Call to Service Award during a Tampa visit in 2006. Standing beside Air Force One, Bush shook the boy's hand and told him how proud he was.
Zach said he was inspired by a TV program about a peace activist named Mildred Norman, known as "The Peace Pilgrim," who walked back and forth across the country for 28 years. That's when the idea for the "My House to the White House" walk came to him.
"He told everybody before I had a chance to say no," said his mom, Laurie. "It's just him. It's who he is."
Film crew follows along
His long walk during summer vacation isn't expected to interfere with school.
A Tampa RV dealership is donating use of a motor home that Zach will sleep in and his mom will drive. His 21-year-old sister, Kelley, will be in a red Volkswagen Beetle decorated with the logo of his foundation. He'll try to get campground space and meals donated along the way. The trip is budgeted at $6,000.
The nonprofit Philanthropy Project has a film crew following Zach, too, and plans to make a movie about his life. British rock legend Elton John counts himself among Zach's fans and has pledged $25,000 to the boy's charity if he finishes the trek.
Staying away from the interstate highways, Zach's sojourn will take him through Greenville, S.C., Raleigh, N.C., and Richmond, Va. His progress will be charted on a Web site, http://www.zachtracker.com.
Once he gets to Washington around July 9, Zach will participate in activities at the Sasha Bruce House, an emergency shelter for homeless youth that Obama visited for a day of service before his inauguration in January. Some of the money Zach is raising will benefit the shelter.
"I'm excited," he said. "A little nervous, but pretty much excited."
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