Santa Rosa 17-year-old Veterans fund raises feeding needs

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Since Memphis Roetter was 5, he knew the importance of giving.

On his fifth birthday, instead of a gift, he asked guests to donate cans of food or money to the Redwood Empire Food Bank, the largest food bank in the North Bay.

That year, Memphis provided more than 700 meals to people in need in Sonoma County. This was the beginning of a tradition for him, which he carried on until his adolescence.

Since, every birthday, Memphis spends the weekend before the big day collecting donations outside the store. He had pulled a wooden wagon into the neighborhood and knocked on people’s doors to collect donations until the wagon was teetered with tall piles of canned food for the food bank.

At the age of 6, he donated 5,335 meals. At age 7, it was 8,300 meals. And for their eighth birthday and beyond, the annual donation has been nearly 10,000 meals.

Memphis, now 17, has raised nearly $ 60,000 and collected nearly 225,000 pounds of food for people in need in Sonoma County.

“Everyone should have access to food, but unfortunately not everyone has access to this need,” Memphis said. “It’s very difficult for a lot of people right now. So it’s important to help anywhere.”

Since when Memphis was young, July’s parents and Chuck Roetter offered their son the option of celebrating a standard birthday or doing charity work. He certainly chose the path of helping others.

“At a young age, my parents inspired me to use my birthday as a means to make money,” Memphis said. “When I was big, I knew I was helping other people and had bigger goals.”

Today, Cardinal Newman High School students take a food drive in front of Oliver Market on Stony Point Road in Santa Rosa every weekend from January to March, filling trash cans with food for the Redwood Empire Food Bank.

The global pandemic that is forcing communities to isolate doesn’t even stop these veteran fundraisers from thinking outside the box and finding ways to help others in need.

In 2021, because of COVID-19, Memphis will not be able to set up a table in a grocery store to collect donations like it used to. So, she reached out to the community through Instagram, Facebook and Nextdoor about the food drive. She created a website to donate to the Virtual Food & Funds Drive and a birthday food drive on GoFundMe that supports Redwood Empire Food Bank.

For its generosity, Memphis has been selected to receive the North Bay Spirit Award for May. A joint project of The Democratic Press and Comcast, the award highlights volunteers who demonstrate outstanding initiative for a cause, often identifying needs in the community and finding proactive ways to fill them.

Veteran volunteers

Nine years ago, The Democratic Press wrote about Memphis when she was just 7. When asked why she was collecting food and funds, she simply replied, “To help local people.”

“It’s expensive to live in Sonoma County, inflation has got under control,” said mother July Roetter. “What he did had a huge and meaningful impact. He inspired people. He was really a wonderful kid.

When Memphis was 10 years old, Emeryville -based Clif Bar & Co. contacted her on Facebook asking to donate an energy snack bar to the food drive. This resulted in a consistent donation of thousands of pounds of Clif bars from the company to the drive’s anniversary each year, accompanied by a birthday note for Memphis.

In the early years of the food drive, a young Memphis, with long blonde hair in the middle, would pull a wooden wagon from door to door and give him flyers to spread about his efforts.

With a smile, he recently returned to canvassing the neighborhood, this time with a car instead of a wagon. Last year, unable to set up a collection table at a local grocery store, he did a patio pickup. Memphis drove around Santa Rosa and collected food from nearly 80 porches after announcing on social media that it would continue to drive food during the pandemic.

He took four barrels of nonperishable food to the food bank. Community members at Nextdoor even donated $ 1,000, he said.

“Among the hundreds of kids who have a food drive for us, Memphis is famous. They’ve been around for some time,” said Lisa Cannon, food bank development director. “Roetter is a long -established family of volunteers in our community, and they do a great job every year.”

Memphis gives a hand everywhere. In February, he partnered with Santa Rosa United, a youth football club he has been a member of since the age of 8, and Saver Sports, a nonprofit organization led by his friend Jayhyun Suh, a senior at Sonoma Academy. Saver Sports collects and donates sports equipment to young athletes in need.

Jayhyun and Memphis invited parents to enroll their children in a one-day football camp at Trione Fields in Santa Rosa. They raised $ 1,000 for Saver Sports and a food bank.

“I love doing this job,” Memphis said. “It makes me feel like I’m a selfless person to make other people’s lives better. I hope I can move on.

A strong moral compass

The Roetters wanted to instill in their son the idea of ​​giving back to society. And birthdays seem to be a great opportunity to give rather than receive.

“We want to raise him on a good foundation and know that there are people struggling around him and we can help by coming out and giving back,” Juli Roetter’s mother said.

in November 2021, Memphis received the City of Santa Rosa Merit Award for its dedication to charitable work.

Memphis said next year it will begin an earlier food drive for a senior service project at Cardinal Newman High School. This will be the last year she does the food drive, as she will be going on to college.

Although he is retiring, he hopes to combine philanthropy with his love for football.

“I like to do anything with football, maybe partner with a food distributor, run a football camp and provide lunch,” Memphis said.

“You don’t need much to give a little,” his mother said. “We’re very proud of him.”

To learn more about Memphis food drives, visit memphisfooddrive.com.

You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at mya.constantino@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @searchingformya.