Six-year old Zach Bonner (Chandler Canterbury) lives in a comfortable suburb of Tampa, Florida, with his single-parent mother Laurie (Anna Gunn) and his teenage sister Kelley (Daveigh Chase). It is 2004 and Hurricane Charlie barely misses them but brings devastation to nearby towns. While watching the TV news Zach is quite moved by how much those hardest hit by the storm have lost. He decides to gather spare hurricane supplies — water, food, and clothing — from his neighbors. He and his sister cart the supplies to their garage in a little red wagon and are very gratified by the community's response. In his very first effort, he collects 27 truckloads of supplies for victims of the hurricane.
Laurie is extremely proud of Zach's sensitivity to the suffering of others, his good heart. and his generosity. After visiting a shelter for homeless families, he comes up with a new project to bring a little joy into the lives of these displaced kids. This involves working with a store and several companies to fill Zach Packs, backpacks replete with essential supplies, such as soap and toothpaste, some candy treats, and, best of all, a toy.
Next, Zach, with the help of his mother and a sympathetic bureaucrat, sets up an official charity that can take tax-deductible contributions. They call it the Little Red Wagon Foundation. He then takes on their most ambitious project yet: a walk from Tampa to the state capitol of Tallahassee to raise money for and promote awareness of homeless children.
In their evergreen book How Can I Help?, Ram Dass and Paul Gorman observe: "Helping out is not some special skill. It is not the domain of rare individuals. It is not confined to a single part or time of our lives. We simply heed the call of that natural caring impulse within, and follow where it leads us." That's a perfect description of Zach and what he has done, a boy whose compassion and kindness comes from his heart not his head. His commitment to helping homeless children is all consuming, and this troubles both his mother and sister. Laurie worries about his health, and Kelley grows increasingly angry about her mother's adoration of Zach and jealous of all the attention he gets. This subplot in the story, is a bit overdrawn, but it does make the point that having a zealous do-gooder in the family can strain relationships.
Screenplay writer Patrick Sheane Duncan (Mr. Holland's Opus) and director David Anspaugh (Hoosiers, Rudy, Moonlight and Valentino) have reinforced the moral clout of the drama by including another plot about the sad fall of Margaret Craig (Frances O'Connor), a recently widowed woman and her son Jim (Dylan Matzke) who are plunged into poverty when she loses her job and is unable to pay her rent or bills. After sleeping in their car, they move into a shelter where her money and essential documents are stolen from her purse. They hit an all-time low when he is injured and they are forced to wait for hours in the emergency room.
As many as 3.5 million people in America experience homelessness in a given year. Little Red Wagon is based on the true story about how one little boy set out to help. He continues to do so with walks and other ways of raising money for his charity. Let's hope that those who see this film will come away with a sense of how easy it is for ordinary people to experience a bad patch and plunge into poverty. And let's hope people also see that every one can find some way to help. Here's a radical option for religious and spiritual people of all types suggested by writer and preacher Will D. Campbell in Soul Among Lions:
"Let every congregation adopt one person who lives on the streets. Ask no questions as to their worthiness. Who among us is worthy? Just find them a lodging, a job, friends — give them hope. That would solve the problem of people living on the streets."
Special features on the DVD include featurettes: "The Making of 'Little Red Wagon' ," "The Real Zach Bonner," and "America's Foundations: America's Best Kept Secret."