City Pages' People Issue celebrates people making Minnesota a better place.
Shrey Pothini was just a 3-year-old from Savage when he realized how much suffering there was in the world. He’d recently toured a Minneapolis homeless shelter. Suddenly, he didn’t want any toys or gifts for his birthday. He wanted soft, beautiful bath towels to give to Avenues for Homeless Youth. That year, thanks to one small boy’s birthday party, the shelter got 15 new towels.
That boy is now 15, still living in Savage, dizzily sprinting through the whirlwind of his teens. On his most recent birthday, he collected over 1,900 bath towels to donate. It has become his annual tradition.
Shrey’s generosity and his boundless energy for doing good, as it turns out, are highly contagious. By third grade, he was organizing his very first service club at his elementary school—which is still going strong with 60 to 100 participants every year. Since then, other schools in the district have created clubs of their own.
In the summer of 2015, he noticed his club was doing quite a lot of good, and it got him wondering what the entire city of Savage could do if they just put their heads together.
So he got to work on his first Service Day Saturday: a city-wide charity event he began with the help of Savage government. Like many other bursts of charitable energy, it might have lasted a year and petered out from there, but its fourth and latest incarnation was its largest yet. Some 1,200 people attended and put in 30,000 volunteer hours, donating thousands of pounds of rice, blankets, toys, books, and dental supplies for food shelves and shelters.
His efforts have not gone unrecognized. Shrey recently received the Prudential Spirit of Community Award—given to only two youth volunteers in every state—which he called one of the coolest experiences of his life. But he gets his truest joy from those little moments he has with younger kids—people having the same revelation he did years ago, realizing they have the power to make a difference.
Those people, he says, will pay it forward.
There are people who mistake him for the kind of person who never gets discouraged. He too has days when it feels like the world has too many problems—when he’s tempted by apathy, or just giving anything less than the herculean effort he’s used to. There are times when he remembers anew we live in a world of pain, and some of it, maybe, can never be fully assuaged.
They do not last long.