When there are veterans in need of support and comfort, Tyler Stallings has been there to offer it.
Since he was 4 years old the Maryland boy has been making “hero bags” with his mother, Andrea Blackstone, and sending them on to veterans. For the first few years, and especially during the winter, Tyler’s bags contained essential items like hats, gloves, blankets, lip balm, sweaters, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and soap.
Now he’s added masks, hand sanitizers and other necessities.
“The reason why I call them hero bags, is because they are heroes, they’ve helped us,” Tyler told WJLA. “I thought, if we can’t find hand sanitizers, how are the shelters barely keeping up with hand sanitizers?”
In November 2019, Tyler raised over $50,000 to support his operation and help veterans, including a $25,000 donation from the Maryland Center for Veteran Education and Training (MCVET) where he volunteers. Tyler’s story was featured on Good Morning America, where his mother explained how he got started.
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Blackstone was teaching Tyler about the importance of veterans, noting several in their own family. She pulled up a few YouTube videos to help. While looking around for more, Tyler learned that many veterans in the US face homelessness on a daily basis.
“He saw videos of veterans holding signs to no one responding to their cry for help and he thought this isn’t right. He didn’t like it,” Blackstone told GMA. “He asked me, ‘If they’re heroes why should they be on the street?'”
At first, Tyler wanted to go to the hardware store to get lumber and tools to build homes for homeless veterans. His mother was moved by the idea, then focused Tyler’s effort on something a little more within their budget.
Through Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and the Start A Snowball program, Tyler received a $100 grant to provide veterans with clothes and hygiene products. He made his first delivery on Veteran’s Day.
“At first, it was hard for people to take a four-year-old seriously,” Blackstone said. “It took me a while to find a shelter that would let him come in and help. But when shelters like MCVET finally did, they loved having him there. It’s nice to have a child in an environment like that. We would take them care packages with toiletries and grooming products to thank people for their service, and they would take whatever they needed.”
Tyler has been gathering supplies for his Hero Bags ever since.
“Tyler has got a very very giving heart, which you don’t see so often in a child so young,” Jeffrey Kendrick, MCVET executive director told WJLA.
Tyler’s more recent deliveries have come in handy during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis. He’s making sure they get in the right hands, and safely, through a “contactless delivery.”
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.