4-year-old New London boy learning to give back

Levi Chappelle, 4, center hands a 'blessings bag' to Catalina Lugo, right, as friend Sarah Kelley, left, helps on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, at the New London Community Meal Center.  Levi helped conduct a fundraiser for his birthday and put the bags, filled with essentials such as soap and a scarf, together.  (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Levi Chappelle, 4, center hands a "blessings bag" to Catalina Lugo, right, as friend Sarah Kelley, left, helps on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, at the New London Community Meal Center. Levi helped conduct a fundraiser for his birthday and put the bags, filled with essentials such as soap and a scarf, together. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

New London — Levi Chappelle is just 4 years old but, with some nudging from his mom, he’s already learning the definition of generosity.

It’s the third year in a row that the youngster with a knack for making others smile has forgone gifts and instead used his birthday as a fundraiser and a way of giving back to the community. With help from friends, family and a host of donors, he was able to assemble 160 “blessing bags” this year to hand out to people at the city’s soup kitchen, the New London Community Meal Center.

On Thursday, Levi waited anxiously near the entrance of the soup kitchen for a new visitor so he could hand out his gift. He was joined by his mother, grandmother and family friends, who had all pitched in on the effort to collect and assemble the bags. The bags were gender-specific and contained things like winter hats, scarves, gloves and first aid kits, along with toiletries such as toothpaste, deodorant, baby wipes, feminine hygiene products, lotion and shampoo. There were also bags for young boys and girls that included toys.

The delivery of the bags elicited smiles among the guests waiting to be served meals by volunteers from St. Joseph School. The bags contained a note from Levi that reads: "Everyone needs help sometimes. Please let this bag be a blessing to you as you go through tough times. Know that you are cared for and not forgotten. There is always hope and you are loved. Love, Levi."  

“So beautiful. God bless him,” said a woman who identified herself only as Tonya.

Levi’s mother, Jordan Chappelle of New London, said the idea of conducting fundraisers began after her son’s first birthday, when he was bombarded with gifts. She decided the money spent on presents could be put to better use.

“I was like, 'He doesn’t need this. He’s a 1-year-old.' So, on his second birthday I decided I didn't want any presents. I want to teach him to give back,” Chappelle said. “It’s a good way to teach him it’s not about stuff.”

The two fundraisers were a success, with $600 collected the first year and $800 the second year. All the money was donated to the New London Firefighter Burn Fund. Combined, the money is enough to send one child to a burn camp for a week. Levi received accolades and a special honor from the fire department for his efforts.

This year, Jordan Chappelle said she wanted her son to do something more hands-on, something that makes him more aware of what he’s doing.

Levi had a shy grin when asked about the fundraiser but said he understood “we’re giving out blessing bags so I can help people.”

The meal center serves about 72,000 meals in a year: the homeless and others on budgets that might not allow enough for food every day of the week. Several children were in attendance at Thursday’s meal.

Grandmother Judi Cox said her daughter has a lot to be proud of, being a single mom working two jobs while teaching her son that material things are not everything.

“Other moms might say, 'It’s just less for me to buy.' I’m just so impressed by her,” Cox said.

Jordan Chappelle said there is also evidence her lesson has sunk in. On a recent trip to Toys "R" Us, she asked her son what he wanted for a birthday gift.

“He said ‘Nothing, Mom. I have toys at home,'” she said.

g.smith@theday.com

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