When the tornadoes of April 2011 roared through this area, canceling school for several days, Sam Mauldin didn't just sit back and enjoy his unexpected vacation.
The middle-school student asked his mom what he could do to help.
"I had read an article about a woman in North Carolina who collected canned goods on a regular basis. People would leave food on her front porch," says Valerie Raley, Sam's mother.
Sam took that idea and rolled with it -- literally.
Using his childhood red Radio Flyer wagon, Sam, 12, collected more than 100 canned goods, cleaning supplies and bottled water from neighbors, which he delivered to a tornado relief distribution site in Apison.
That initial success prompted him to try again. Under the name "Sam's Red Wagon," he has collected more than 1,100 cans for charity in four charity drives.
"I just want to help other people," says the seventh-grader at Silverdale Baptist Academy. "The neighbors like it. They are always supportive and always give me some cans."
In December 2011, Sam collected 333 cans of food for his school's participation in WRCB-TV Channel 3's Share Your Christmas. Earlier this year, he held his third food drive following the Harrison-Ooltewah tornadoes, ultimately delivering 240 cans to Greenwood Baptist Church for distribution.
Last week, Sam hauled 449 cans into Silverdale Baptist Academy for its second year in Share Your Christmas. His donation was four times the next highest donation by a middle school student, said Roslyn McCoy, SBA Middle School principal.
Sam's philanthropic operation is fairly simple. He prints fliers announcing his food-drive plan and puts one in everybody's mailbox in his Harrison neighborhood. He asks them to drop their cans off in the red wagon on his front porch.
"He's my hero," says Don Karlin, the neighborhood homeowners' association president. "The kid has taken it upon himself to do this."
McCoy says Sam is extremely modest about his charitable efforts.
"If we weren't asking for a can count, he wouldn't even tell us," the principal says. "He has a giving heart. He doesn't ask for any recognition. He just does this because he cares about people."
Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...