The Caped Cru­sader

A four-year-old boy dis­cov­ers that com­pas­sion for the less for­tu­nate can pro­duce su­per­hu­man re­sults

Reader's Digest - - Contents - by claire nowak

ev­ery­day he­roes

Austin Perine is not your typ­i­cal su­per­hero. Oh, sure, he looks the part, with his sig­na­ture cape flap­ping against his blue shirt. He has an arch neme­sis, as all good he­roes must. He even uses a catchy name for his heroic al­ter ego: Pres­i­dent Austin.

But two things set this caped cru­sader apart: His ad­ver­sary is not con­fined to the pages of a comic book—pres­i­dent Austin’s foes, hunger and home­less­ness, are very real. Also, he’s only four years old.

Our hero’s ori­gin story started this past Fe­bru­ary in the Perine fam­ily liv­ing room in Birm­ing­ham, Alabama. Austin and his fa­ther, TJ Perine, were watch­ing a pro­gram on An­i­mal Planet about a mother panda leav­ing her cubs. “I told him that the cubs would be home­less for a while,” TJ says. “Austin didn’t know what home­less­ness meant, but he was sad and wanted to know more.”

See­ing this as a teach­able mo­ment, TJ took Austin to the Fire­house Min­istries, a lo­cal shel­ter that pro­vides hous­ing, food, and other ser­vices for chron­i­cally home­less men. As they drove by the red­brick build­ing, they saw a group of 25 home­less men stand­ing on the street cor­ner. “Dad, they look sad,” Austin said. “Can we take them some food and make them smile?”

That day, Austin used his al­lowance

to buy each man a Burger King sand­wich and handed the food out him­self. See­ing what their pres­ence meant to the men at the min­istry, Austin and TJ re­turned the next week. Austin again dipped into his piggy bank to buy sand­wiches, which he handed out along with his new catch­phrase, “Don’t for­get to show love!”

Af­ter he re­turned ev­ery week for five weeks, word of Austin’s acts of kind­ness spread through so­cial me­dia and na­tional news out­lets. Burger King jumped aboard, agree­ing to do­nate $1,000 a month for an en­tire year to­ward the cause. Soon, churches and shel­ters across the coun­try be­gan invit­ing Austin to come dis­trib­ute food in other poverty-prone ar­eas. He’ll have vis­ited at least 15 lo­ca­tions by the end of this year, in­clud­ing Skid Row in Los An­ge­les and parts of Puerto Rico af­fected by Hur­ri­cane Maria. Whereas be­fore Austin and TJ could feed 25 to 50 peo­ple at a time, now, thanks to cor­po­rate and com­mu­nity sup­port, they can feed 800 to 2,000 peo­ple at once.

But Austin isn’t just fill­ing bel­lies. He’s im­prov­ing the lives of those he meets. On that first trip to Fire­house Min­istries, TJ and Austin talked to a man named Ray­mont, who was es­tranged from his fam­ily. The re­spect Austin be­stowed on 41-year-old Ray­mont touched the man, and he shared with TJ just how grate­ful he was to be treated so con­sid­er­ately by a fouryear-old stranger. Ray­mont and TJ kept in touch. With help from TJ’S mother, Au­drey Perine, who worked at the Alabama Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion at the time, TJ helped Ray­mont col­lect all the cre­den­tials he needed to get a driver’s li­cense. The li­cense helped Ray­mont get a job. And with money in the bank, he was able to rent his own apart­ment. All that was made pos­si­ble be­cause a lit­tle boy took the time to care.

Austin’s pas­sion has now be­come his fam­ily’s call­ing. Af­ter rais­ing money through a Gofundme page, Au­drey es­tab­lished the Show Love Foun­da­tion, a non­profit ded­i­cated to fight­ing home­less­ness. She now serves as pres­i­dent, and TJ left his job as a project man­ager for a hos­pi­tal chain to over­see pub­lic re­la­tions for the foun­da­tion full-time. He’s in talks with the city of Birm­ing­ham to se­cure the red­brick build­ing where it all started—fire­house Min­istries is mov­ing—as the site of their own shel­ter, which would of­fer med­i­cal and men­tal health care as pre­ven­tive steps against home­less­ness.

As for Pres­i­dent Austin, he con­tin­ues to give out food, smiles, and his in­spi­ra­tional mes­sage of love. “It makes me feel like I’m sav­ing the day.”

AUSTIN DOLES OUT FOOD AND A MOTTO: “DON’T FOR­GET TO SHOW LOVE!”

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