GREENFIELD — Bleach, paper towels, teddy bears, cash.
Those were the items on Mathesen Skillman’s birthday wish list this year, but the 12-year-old’s unusual request didn’t stop at the items he was asking for. Where he wanted those items to go was different, too.
In lieu of video games and action figures, Mathesen asked friends and family attending his birthday party to bring donations for Hancock Hope House.
“Mom asked me if I wanted something for my birthday,” Mathesen explained. “I pretty much have everything I need, so I asked her if I could have a party for all the people who don’t have things.”
So that’s exactly what he did.
Mathesen invited his friends for a party to Gymnastics Unlimited, asking on the invitation for people to please not bring gifts, but donations instead.
“When he said ‘I don’t really want anything; I have everything I need,’ it was kind of surprising coming out of a 12-year-old boy’s mouth,” said Holly Skillman, Mathesen’s mother. “Right now, they want everything.”
Skillman said her family normally does a service project together during the holidays, but this is the first one of her children to suggest something like this.
It was Skillman who suggested to her son that, if this is what he really wanted to do, they collect donations for Hancock County’s sole homeless shelter.
“I told him about Hope House and he said ‘OK, mom, call while I’m at school and ask for the top three things they need,’” she said.
Those three things were bleach, paper towels and plastic zip baggies.
Hope House, 35 East Pierson St., provides food, shelter, guidance and life skills training for the county’s homeless. The operation is funded almost entirely by donations and proceeds from sales at the organization’s adjoining thrift store.
The generosity of community members is what keeps the doors open, said Cindy Miller, Hope House’s executive assistant.
“We don’t have enough funding to buy all the supplies … that we need,” Miller said. “That’s what keeps us going, people like Mathesen.”
Skillman worked closely with Miller in the months and weeks leading up to Mathesen’s party to come up with a list of things the Hope House needed most. Miller said the shelter was almost completely out of bleach and paper towels. Donations of clothing for the thrift store are always appreciated, too.
In all, Mathesen collected bleach, paper towels, plastic baggies, other cleaning supplies, used clothes for the thrift store and even a cash donation. Mathesen himself picked out a teddy bear for each of the four small children who were living in the shelter at the time.
“The kids that were younger and couldn’t do much with the supplies needed something, too,” he said.
“That was something he wanted to do,” Skillman said, of her son. “He’s always had a sensitive heart and been concerned about the welfare of others, but to be turning 12 and give up his birthday …”
Indeed, such an event is pretty rare.
While Miller said the community is often generous in its donations to the Hope House, she’s only heard of a child doing something like Mathesen did one other time in the years that she was been there.
“You don’t have too many children that say ‘I don’t need anything; let’s do something for someone else;’ especially someone they don’t know,” Miller said. “I can’t wait to see what he grows up to be.”
But Mathesen isn’t looking too far into the future, just yet. While Skillman has already explained to Mathesen that he needs a Christmas list, because “there are family members that want to give to him because it makes them feel good,” Mathesen said he’ll do another project again before too long.
“I don’t know, sometime in high school,” said the Sugar Creek Elementary School sixth-grader. “It made me feel kind of good.”