While dining out at a Chili’s Grill & Bar in his hometown of Millville, N.J., 15-year-old Carter Crockett became curious about the restaurant’s St. Jude Create-a-Pepper promotion. His mother told him about a pediatric hospital and research facility in Memphis, Tenn., with the mission to eradicate childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
The idea of helping St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with that mission resonated with Carter, who has autism, and a few months later, he told his mother he wanted to “bring color back into the lives of kids with cancer.”
I have autism, but cancer is worse. I wanted to do something to help make it better.
He came up with the idea of collecting coloring books and crayons for the kids of St. Jude. Not only did he collect them — 15,000 crayons and 1,500 books in total — but he wanted to deliver them as well. “He wanted to see where it all began,” his mother, Patti, said. “He wanted to learn how Danny Thomas built St. Jude.”
Eighteen months after that dinner at Chili’s, Carter, his mother, and a few family friends loaded those gifts into a 21-foot Winnebago for the 2,400-mile round trip.
The first stop was the Millville Police Department, where Carter was made an honorary officer before the crew was given a police escort to the interstate. The second stop was at a Chili’s in Maryland, where Patti said they were welcomed like royalty, treated to a meal and a standing ovation from the staff.
Since the partnership began in 2002, Chili’s has raised over $63 million for St. Jude.
Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.
In addition to the coloring books and crayons, Carter began a GoFundMe page that exceeded his fundraising goal of $3,000. Patti gives a lot of credit to Chili’s and the outpouring of support from the community.
“It’s even more than money for St. Jude, but it is awareness we raise from the community that makes this so special,” said Brock Smith, director of operations for Chili’s West Tennessee and Mississippi, who was on hand to welcome the Crocketts and accompany them to St. Jude.
Carter and his mother were able to take a tour of the hospital. “Incredible,” was how Patti described the experience. “As a mom, it means a lot that they give them a home for the time they’re here.”
Carter said he’s proud to have helped the kids of St. Jude. His mother feels blessed. “I’m grateful this small pebble in a big pond has helped today,” she said. “Even if it’s a small amount, we can all make a difference.”