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Cavanaugh Bell is not your ordinary second-grader.
While most of his peers spent their summers relaxing, the 7-year-old from Maryland was hard at work, delivering a trailer full of COVID-19 supplies to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, which is considered to be one of the poorest places in America.
As if that wasn’t enough, Bell — who founded his own nonprofit organization, Cool & Dope, to combat bullying and spread positivity — continued his efforts last week by loading up a 53-foot truck of supplies and delivering them to the reservation ahead of winter.
″The weather’s starting to get cold, plus September is Kids’ Suicide Awareness Month, and the Pine Ridge Reservation has the most kids [dying by] suicide,″ Bell tells PEOPLE (the TV Show!). ″I’m just trying to do what’s best for them. I’m just trying to make them have a big fat smile on their faces.″
Bell says he initially learned about Pine Ridge after passing through on a road trip back from Colorado in 2018 with his mother.
″We were driving for miles and miles and there was a straight-up nothing,″ he recalls, noting that his mom eventually told him about the reserve. ″I was like, ‘Well, maybe we should do something for them since they’re in the middle of nowhere.’ ”
Along with their physical isolation, Bell says he was moved by the fact that a majority of the Pine Ridge community struggles with poverty, increased suicide rates and health problems.
According to the nonprofit organization Re-Member, teen suicide rates are 150 percent higher than the U.S. National Average, 97 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and makes less than $3,500 a year, only 19 percent of the population lives past their 50th birthday and approximately 85 percent of Lakota families are affected by alcoholism.
With this information in mind, the second-grader then determined what kind of essential supplies the reserve was lacking and created a video calling on people from his community for donations through an Amazon wishlist, a GoFundMe page or in-person to his pantry.
Later, he secured the truck — and then watched as he slowly started receiving items, varying from hygiene products, nonperishable food and cleaning products, to diapers, coats, clothes, shoes and blankets.
“It’s just a blessing to be helping them,” says Bell, who is part Native American. “I’m trying to make sure they have what they need to survive, cause that’s their only land and… they’re [like] my family.”
Following his first delivery on July 10, Bell notes how “amazing” it felt so he decided to do it again. This time, however, would be more important as winter was approaching, along with the flu season amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Winter is horrible and it’s gonna be a mixture of the flu and coronavirus, so I figured why don’t I just give them clothes to stay warm and make sure that … they get to be warm like all of us and have a happy life like all of us?” he shares. “Because it’s 2020 and I don’t think anyone should be living like that.”
“It’s not fair that we’re having great and happy life when they’re suffering in the middle of nowhere,” adds Bell.
The boy’s efforts certainly haven’t gone unnoticed, as Alice Phelps, a member of the Pine Ridge community, tells PEOPLE how much they appreciate everything Bell has done for the reserve.
“He believes he can save the world, and I believe him,” she shares. “He just carries that, ‘Well, no problem, let’s do it,’ and he doesn’t see anything as a challenge so I love that innocence about him.”
Along with helping Pine Ridge, Bell says he has been dedicating his time to his nonprofit, which he founded after growing tired of being told he was too young to volunteer.
He’s also been working toward his goal of eliminating bullying altogether by his 18th birthday in 2030 — something he notes personally affected him.
“I was being bullied for doing work faster than others,” he explains. “I had the darkness inside me and I didn’t want kids to feel the same way I felt, so that’s why I asked my mom if she would be sad if I died, but then I told her that I wanted to start my own nonprofit.”
For those who may become inspired by his story, Bell has one piece of advice: “I just wanna teach people they can have an impact no matter their age — no matter if you’re 8, 10, or even my grandma’s age, 74 — you can do anything!”