Neighbor Elizabeth Knappen loads down Memphis Roetter, 7, with can food donations for the Redwood Empire Food Bank. In his third year gathering contributions, Memphis hopes to achieve his goal of 7,735 lbs of food.

Santa Rosa 7-year-old already veteran fundraiser for food bank

Memphis Roetter, who turns 7 years old today, isn't having the usual birthday party.

Instead of presents, guests are asked to bring donations - cans of food or money to help him provide 7,735 meals for the needy.

Food bank officials say that what Memphis is doing at his young age is unprecedented in Sonoma County.

"There's not a lot of kids that do this individually," said Billy Bartz, food drive and events coordinator for Redwood Empire Food Bank.

"To have a young person out in the community doing this, it's rare and a gem and makes a big difference for people facing food insecurity," he said. "He's by far the most successful food drive host we've seen."

Asked why he's doing it, Memphis replies "to help local people."

He sits squirming on the family coach of his northwest Santa Rosa home, playfully hiding his face with pillows as he submits to a brief interview.

Other than his unusual name or his favorite vacation (a trip to Burning Man), Memphis seems like a typical boy with his long, blond hair parted down the middle.

But the Charter School for the Arts student is on track to meet his goal of raising $2,000, which equates to 6,000 meals, since every dollar raised provides for three meals through the Food Bank and its partnership with wholesale vendors.

The remainder of the 7,735 meals will come from donated cans of food with every pound equivalent to one meal.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think, I think, I think, I'll do it," he says on a video posted on his website

His parents, Chuck and Juli Roetter, obviously help with things like setting up his website, making fliers and processing donations.

Memphis writes the thank-you cards, but his father types them out.

"We want him to feel he's giving back to the community," said his father, who works as a project manager for Comcast.

But it was Memphis who made the decision to have kids bring food instead of gifts to his last three birthdays.

"We give him the option if he wants a normal birthday party," Roetter said, but the boy "has selected charity every year."

Roetter said his wife, an office manager for a Petaluma property management company, steered Memphis in the direction of fundraising early on. It began when he was a student at the Early Learning Institute in Rohnert Park and became aware of a need for school supplies.

At his next birthday party, Memphis' mom suggested that the invitations request that guests make a donation for the school rather than purchasing a gift. He raised $385.

The next year, he raised almost $900 to help put on the Kids Day Parade in Cotati, where the family lived at the time.

He met the mayor and presented him with a huge facsimile of a check.

For his fifth birthday, Memphis collected enough food and money to provide for more than 700 meals through the Redwood Empire Food Bank. For his sixth birthday, his goal was surpassing a local Toyota dealer's food drive. He did so by raising enough for 5,585 meals.

Memphis has spent weekends before his birthday collecting donations outside of grocery markets. He makes the rounds in neighborhoods, collecting food door-to-door with his wagon.

He has toured the food bank's collection center to see where the food is collected and has seen it distributed to families in need.

He has some donation barrels at coffee shops and other stores.

And with the help of his dad, Memphis set up an online account at Crowdrise, a social media site for making charitable contributions that is linked to his Facebook page.

"He's a model of what young people can do," Bartz said.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or

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