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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Walking Wonder: Boy stops in Gainesville during 250-mile walk

Ask 9-year-old Zach Bonner what he'll be doing to celebrate his birthday and you'll get this response: "I'll be walking."

Though Zach has walked 125 miles in his size 4 red-and-black New Balance sneakers, his journey was only half over when he arrived in Gainesville on Tuesday.

The 4-foot 6-inch fourth-grader, who will turn 10 on Saturday, is walking 250 miles across the state, from Tampa to Tallahassee, to raise awareness of homeless children across the nation.

Zach was greeted by a crowd of about 20 friends and family members at the corner of Southwest 13th Street and Museum Road to celebrate the completion of the midpoint of his journey.

He walks every day with his mom and sister for 11 to 13 miles. He usually completes seven miles in the morning and four in the afternoon, said his mother, Laurie Bonner.

He's collecting all the money he finds in a Gatorade bottle.

"It's really weird, but about every 200 feet there's a penny," Zach said. "I found ,15 in a tuna can today."

He said 26 people have stopped to ask him if he wants a ride. He hopes 50 will ask by the time he finishes his trek.

Zach may seem young to be such an activist, but he's been doing it since he was 6 years old.

After Hurricane Charlie struck his area in 2004, he wanted to help people who had been affected by the damage.

He helped raise money to gather 27 truckloads of dry goods and water to distribute to the victims.

When he was 7, Zach created his own charity, called the Little Red Wagon Foundation. He hosts two events a year, Milk and Cookies with Santa and Project 24 Hours.

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Milk and Cookies is a Christmas party he has for children who were victims of Hurricane Katrina. After Katrina hit, he raised ,7,000 for toys and school supplies for children in New Orleans.

His other annual event, Project 24 Hours, simulates what it would be like to be homeless for a day. Students from local high schools spend 24 hours in a box.

"The hardest thing about that was keeping kids in their own boxes," Zach said. "One kid in one box. How hard is that?"

He started his walk and got involved with StandUp for Kids, a nonprofit that raises awareness for homeless children, after he helped a family on an episode of "Extreme Home Makeover." He collected ,3,680 for the family by collecting on the street corner for four days.

Though he divides his time between his schoolwork and charities, Zach still finds time to be a normal kid. Sort of.

He's played little league baseball for the Devil Rays, Cubs and Mets. He turned down a chance to be on CBS's Kid Nation to do his walk this month.

He wants to attend Harvard University and go to law school at Yale University to be a prosecuting attorney.

He's up for the Volvo Butterfly Award, which gives ,25,000 to a child under 16 who is active within the community.

He eventually wants to walk to Washington, D.C., via several trips over the next five years. He has a lofty goal for when he reaches the White House.

"I want to steal some paper towels like Barbara Walters did," he said. "They have the presidential seal on them."

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