RJ Bourgeois, 8, and his sister, Sophie, 4, create individual packets of school supplies Monday at their home in Greene. RJ’s fundraiser to provide gifts for children took a different spin this winter because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The money raised paid for school supplies for Lewiston and Auburn students learning from home. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

GREENE — When COVID-19 got in the way, RJ Bourgeois found a way around it.

For the past two Christmases the 8-year-old from Greene had sold crafts and “Ninja Bread” at fairs to raise money for gifts to patients at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, where he was born with a life-threatening condition.

“I did not think I would be able to do it this year,” the second-grader said, because most craft fairs were canceled this year because of the pandemic.

RJ and his mother, Brianna, came up with an alternative. They raised money through an online silent auction and a GoFundMe page, bringing in $3,719 — his best year yet.

“I didn’t think we would raise any money this year,” Brianna Bourgeois said. Most donations are “$20 here and $50 there, but we had a $300 donation from a complete stranger,” she said with a big smile. The Vault, a Lewiston business that specializes in craft beers and fine wine, donated $500 and the Phoenix Karate Academy in Auburn donated $250.

“They help me with my karate skills and with my fundraising,” RJ said of his karate teachers, Harry and Donna Harris. “They are big-hearted people.”

In December 2019, RJ Bourgeois, 7, gives his father, Rick Bourgeois, a hug as he and his sister, Sophie, mom, Brianna, and dad load their pickup truck with cookies and presents for children at the The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House in Portland. RJ, a first-grader at Greene Central School, raised $3,300 to buy 10 iPod Touches and 10 Bluetooth speakers so that every room in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, will be equipped to play soothing music when their parents are not there. RJ also bought copies of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and rattles for every baby who will be in the NICU or critical care unit Christmas Day. The 1,000 cookies that RJ and his mother made are for staff. In addition to donations, RJ made crafts and sold “Ninja Bread” at craft fairs to raise the money. RJ was born at The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital with a life-threatening condition and he and his parents have delivered presents at Christmas each year since to show their appreciation. “He’s our enthusiastic elf,” Brianna Bourgeois said. “He never stops.” Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo Buy this Photo

Although he had the money, there was a second hurdle to overcome.

Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital was not accepting donated gifts from individuals this year. So, RJ had an order of books, rattles and baby onesies delivered to the hospital directly from Target.

But he wanted to do more.

“I wanted to help children in need around here,” he said.

“We found there was a great need in the area because of the pandemic,” his mother said.

She learned that some students in Lewiston and Auburn did not have supplies they needed to do their classwork at home.

“They didn’t have a desk or chair to do their homework on,” RJ said.

He used some of the money to purchase chairs, school supplies, pajamas, slippers and bath robes to go along with the wooden desks being made by a friend.

The boy’s fundraising began three years ago as a way to say “thank you” to those at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House, also in Portland. So far he and his family have raised over $7,000 to buy gifts for patients and make cookies for nurses and staff over the course of two Christmas seasons.

“We had to broaden our horizons this year,” Brianna Bourgeois said. “Because of the pandemic, we had to bring it a little closer to home.”

Through friends, she was able to connect with an organization that provides for Lewiston and Auburn youth in need.

Because of those connections and because the pandemic has opened their eyes to a large need closer to home, RJ and his family are thinking about helping out throughout the year.

“We heard from one teacher that said her student has made a big improvement now that he has a desk and chair,” Bourgeois said.

RJ and his father, Rick, have put together chairs that fit under the desks were made by a family friend.

“It makes me feel proud and happy that people helped me fundraise and do all this,” RJ said.

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