Toys were not on the wish list for a 10-year-old boy’s birthday party, but something that brought him more joy.
"He asked his friends to bring dog food, cat food, treat toys to his party instead of presents," Richmond Hill mom Tracy Smith explained of her son’s Feb. 25 celebration.
Jesse Smith, a fourth grader at Carver Elementary School, took the gift wrapped items and donated them to Bryan County Animal Control.
Jesse said it made him feel "awesome," and he did it "to help the animals feel better."
"Because the animals will get better and people will get better animals," Jesse said.
"Jesse loves animals, any kind of animal," Tracy explained. "He’s been in love with animals I think since he was born."
In fact, Jesse has a tortoise named Darth Vader. The young ster wants to be a marine biologist when he grows up.
The family also has a rescue dachshund mix named Molly, but Tracy pointed to another rescue dog the family had in North Carolina as starting Jesse’s love of animals.
"He used to crawl over her and she was just the best dog ever," Tracy recalled of Jesse. "And, I think that’s where it come from."
Jesse and his family made the donation delivery Feb. 27 and it impressed Bryan County Animal Control director Beth Murray.
Murray said Jesse’s donation allowed for more funds to be used for other shelter needs.
"The toys and treats really help to enrich the animals’ lives while they are with us at Bryan County Animal Control," Murray said. "Jesse is very generous to do this. Not many 10-year-old boys would give up gifts for any reason."
Birthday donations have been a family tradition of sorts for the military family originally from California.
Tracy explained the boys have the choice of a smaller party and more presents or a big, blow-out party and picking a charity to support.
Her 12-year-old son first chose the donation option and Tracy said she thinks that inspired Jesse.
"They have a lot of privilege, our kids. They’re very privileged, so I always try and show them how to bless others as much as they have been blessed. And they take to it very well," Tracy said. "Both of them choose to do donations and I think they really like donating to places."
The 5-year-old little brother is next. He is set to donate to the Richmond Hill Fire Department soon.
The boys also donate old toys during Christmas time and care bags to the homeless.