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Boy is ‘hooked on giving’

Linda Hiller

At the young age of 14, Justin Thran has given away more money than most of his peers have ever seen.

A resident of Smith Valley, Thran has been giving money and food to the Food Bank of Northern Nevada since 1994 when he was in the 5th grade and won a school contest, giving him the opportunity to get his wish granted.

What would any normal 5th grader wish for? A bicycle? Tickets to Disneyland?

“I made a wish that no one would have to go hungry,” Justin said. “It came true, too, because we collected 800 pounds of food and my dad and I delivered it to the food drive in Reno at the Hilton.”

After that experience, Justin was hooked on giving. But to talk to his father, Bob, it becomes clear that Justin’s generosity started long before 5th grade.

“When Justin was 5, we were living in Hood River, Wash., and drove by the Hood River Cemetery one day, where they were burying someone,” Bob said. “Justin asked me ‘Dad what are they doing?’ and I told them they were burying a guy. ‘Who is he?’ Justin asked, and I told him who it was – a man who was 32 or so with five or six kids who’d had a heart attack just before Christmas.”

Justin then asked his father “What are they going to do for Christmas?” to which Bob said he had no real answer.

Back home and with Bob starting dinner, Justin disappeared into his room and emerged later with an armful of toys.

“‘I’m ready dad,’ he said to me, and I looked over and realized he had gone into his toy box and taken out his best toys,” Bob said.

Bob immediately called a woman from the church who would be able to get the toys to the man’s family.

“When your child comes to you and says he wants to help people, you’d better stop what you’re doing,” Bob said.

He and Justin drove to the woman’s house and after arriving he noticed that Justin had included his favorite toy, one they called “the bald-headed baby,” in the collection.

“For some reason he decided to give this doll away, which surprised me, and as we were leaving he took it out and held it up to the woman and said, ‘Make sure one of the girls gets this.’ Both the woman and I lost it at that point,” Bob said.

Since 1994, Justin has given away thousands of dollars. Last year, he presented a check for $3,114.53 to the Food Bank of Northern Nevada.

Most of his donations are proceeds from the sale of bird feeders and houses, which he makes at home with his dad to be sold at area craft fairs.

Justin’s booth at the annual Christmas craft fair held at Douglas High School this year was so crowded with customers that Bob often had to stand back out of the way to make room.

“This is a great craft fair. I hope they (school district officials) won’t stop the schools from holding them in the future because they are so important to the community,” Bob said. “We have met a wonderful group of people there – senior citizens trying to supplement their fixed incomes, single parents, married couples trying to make enough so the mother can stay home – it’s very important.”

Justin and his father have been on their own since Justin was 6 months old. Raising his son alone, Bob said his priorities soon changed. When Justin was 7, Bob quit his high-paying, time-consuming job with a power company in Washington and moved with Justin to Smith Valley to go into construction with his brother, Richard.

This year, Bob decided to home school Justin. Much of his teachings have involved the practical application involving Justin’s work with the Food Closet.

“What I’ve been teaching Justin is that you can take $200 and donate it to a cause, but if you take that same $200, use that money for materials to build 150 bird feeders and sell the feeders, then you have $1,500 to donate instead of the $200,” Bob said.

In December, Justin was featured on camera many times during the day-long food drive held again at the Reno Hilton and staffed by television news personalities from KTVN TV Channel 2. Justin and his father traveled from Smith Valley and brought 100 bird feeders to be sold, with the proceeds going to the food drive. They sold out and had to take orders for another 50 feeders, bring their proceeds to approximately $1,500.

Justin will not take credit for giving consistently to help others.

“There probably are others, but they’re not getting recognized,” he said.

The Northern Nevada Food Closet distributes food to 88 agencies in Northern Nevada and California, including the Carson Valley Community Food Closet, and agencies in Carson City, Dayton, Yerington and many more, so Justin’s donations do come back into his community.

Many people ask Bob what can they as parents do to inspire their children?

“I tell them, you definitely have to change your lifestyle,” Bob said. “It’s a priority thing. Most people are hung up on making money, but my priority is that I’m going to do what I can for this child right now.”

Bob said he lives within his means and as a result, he always has time to spend with Justin.

“I’m not worrying about the future, because I plan on working, so I give to him now, rather than after I die,” he said. “I encourage people with a lot of stuff to spend it or give it away and simplify their lives. Don’t give it all to your kids – it will just make them lazy.”

Justin, who admits to not being perfect and says it sometimes takes him days to clean his room, said he is thinking about becoming a contractor like his dad, as he does enjoy working with wood and making the bird houses and feeders.

“When I was younger, I wanted to be a produce man in a grocery store, then later I wanted to be a paramedic and firefighter,” he said. “After that, I thought I wanted to be a cook or waiter or busboy, but now I think I might like to be a contractor like my dad.”

Justin doesn’t do what he does because it has been assigned to him as a school, church or scouting project. The reason is much simpler.

“Giving is fun because you know you’re doing something good for somebody else,” Justin said. “I want to thank all the people who buy my bird feeders. I could never give so much if people didn’t buy my products.”

“It’s just the right thing to do,” added his dad. “I’m just fortunate to be able to go along with him for the ride.”