Cameron Reyna

Cameron Reyna, 8, helped collect over 230 winter coats this year for community members experiencing homelessness.

Eight-year-old Cameron Reyna and his mother Alex Mars say sometimes people overthink how they can lend a helping hand — “if can, then must,” is the simple motto that helped them collect over 500 winter clothing items for donation this fall.

The donation drive took place for the first time last year after Cameron, a student at William Byrne Elementary, saw a person experiencing homelessness and began wondering how to help homeless people in the community.

“His reaction was wanting to do something so we discussed different things homeless people would need,” Mars said.

Last year’s drive collected 75 coats. This year, the operation grew and they gathered 235 coats.

“I’m overwhelmed with how many coats we have,” Gail Haering, Cameron’s grandmother, said from her Shakopee home while sorting the coats last week. “The response has just been overwhelming.”

Mars said collecting the coats was pretty easy with the help of public drop-spots set up by The Pearl Salon of Shakopee, Edina Realty of Shakopee and Prior Lake and Randy Kube’s real estate.

To distribute the coats, they partnered with individuals and organizations to support grassroots, mutual aid community care efforts across the metro.

“My intention was that as much of these resources could go to Indigenous people as possible,” Mars said.

She connected with Val Jimenez, an Indigenous woman of Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, who has spent years feeding homeless community members through street outreach to help distribute resources.

Clothing and other collected items were also delivered to the Provisions Community Restaurant, which in part operates clothing distribution by taking orders and making deliveries to people without transportation.

In total, they collected and distributed 235 coats, 114 hats, 44 scarves, 58 mittens, 23 snow pants, 25 boots, 19 boxes of menstrual products and numerous other miscellaneous sweaters and hygiene products.

“We’re just going to keep doing it,” Cameron said shortly before taking his celebratory jump into the pile of coats.