On his 30th birthday in February, Tsiliacos delivered care packages to the staff at the Oakland Zoo. It was his 10th act of kindness. He did not have regrets about falling short of 30, he said, because he’d brightened hundreds of lives and felt his mission was a success.
After watching the report that day in March, Maxx, then 9, turned to his grandmother and his mother and said, “Can I do something like that for my 10th birthday?”
“I was really proud,” said his mother, Cristina Raser, 42, who works in the sales staffing industry in the Bay Area.
In October, as Maxx’s 10th birthday approached, she asked him if he was still up for it. When he said yes, she decided to reach out to Tsiliacos to let him know he’d inspired her son.
Tsiliacos, 30, was excited, and asked if Maxx wanted to team up to complete his first act.
“National Sandwich Day was around the corner,” Tsiliacos said. “So I suggested that we make sandwiches and feed all of the homeless that we could.”
After his birthday, which was Oct. 22, Maxx used the $75 he’d received as birthday gifts from family members to purchase bread, cheese, turkey and ham to make 100 sandwiches. Tsiliacos said he’d gotten two local delis to donate another 100, then they could deliver everything to the Multi-Service Center South — San Francisco’s largest homeless shelter.
Cristina said she burst into tears as her son wheeled a cart full of sandwich makings through the grocery store.
“He’d just finished picking out the bread and he told me, ‘This feels really good, Mommy. It makes me happy that I’m helping people,’” she recalled.
His father, Sean Raser, a high school computer science teacher, said he was touched by his son’s efforts.
“Maxx has always been kind and sweet, and as an only child, he’s mature for his age,” he said.
The Rasers invited several family members over on Nov. 2 to help Maxx put together the sandwiches, then on Nov. 3 — National Sandwich Day — they loaded everything into the car and drove Maxx to the homeless shelter to meet Tsiliacos.
“I was excited to meet [Bryan] and get the sandwiches to homeless people who needed them,” Maxx said.
Tsiliacos said he couldn’t wait to meet Maxx.
“I saw him wheeling in those sandwiches and I gave him a fist bump,” he said. “I saw it as a full circle moment to see another generation wanting to continue what I’d started to express my own gratitude.”
Tsiliacos, a product manager for a marketing technology company, said that at age 29 he was feeling anxious about the future and decided he should focus on the good in his life.
“I realized that I actually had a lot to be thankful for, and I thought, ‘Why don’t I return the favor by doing acts of generosity?” he said.
The sandwiches he delivered with Maxx were Tsiliacos’s 12th act of kindness. For his 11th act, he collected and donated medical scrubs and water bottles to nurses at Shriners Children’s Northern California.
Now he’s switching his goal. He wants to complete one big act of generosity each year for the next decade, and convince others to do the same.
“The fact that Maxx is doing this shows that passing it forward can be done at any age,” he said.
At the San Francisco homeless shelter, Cristina said her son couldn’t stop smiling as about 40 people who lived there sang “Happy Birthday” to him in the dining room to honor his efforts. NBC Bay Area, the station that reported Tsiliacos’s story, showed up to do a follow-up on the two new friends working together.
“Everyone was really grateful for what Maxx did, and he couldn’t wait to get started on his next act of kindness,” Cristina said.
Maxx said he is now planning a drive for warm coats in early December, with the goal of collecting 150 coats to deliver to area homeless shelters. He also hopes to convince friends on his hockey team to join him for a weekend cleanup of area beaches.
He has lots of other ideas percolating, too.
“I might also do a book drive, and I’d like to visit an elderly home and read to people and give them some cookies,” he said. “It would also be fun to give stuffed animals to kids at a shelter.”
“I like coming up with ideas because I think it’s important to spread kindness in the world,” Maxx added. “I hope what I’m doing inspires lots of people in my generation by the time I’m 11.”