By Jesse Berlin
Freshman Christian Birtell is organizing an event to provide free meals to emergency responders and give a financial boost to small businesses.
“With everything that’s going on in the climate of this country, I decided that instead of spreading a message of hate,” he said, “I’d rather spread a message of love.”
Birtell plans to raise at least $7,200 on the Dinner for First Responders GoFundMe page by July 1. With the money, he will buy gift cards from five locally-owned restaurants — the Heidelberg, China Chef, Las Margaritas, Jazz A Louisiana Kitchen and Flat Branch — and hand them out to first responders at hospitals and fire and police stations to “thank them for all they’ve done.”
By giving back to police and other first responders, Birtell said he hopes to show that an African American like himself can have a positive interaction with law enforcement.
“We don’t have to let the past dictate the future of relationships between police and minority communities,” he said.
Birtell also said he believes that buying gift cards will help restaurant owners, who have taken a hit during the pandemic.
Birtell set out to become a “household name for goodwill” after dealing with trauma and depression as a high school freshman. He said he “didn’t have a lot of people” to turn to for support at the time.
Two upperclassmen noticed he was “going through a lot” however and took him under their wings. When football season arrived, they invited him into the student section at games and made him feel included. To express his gratitude, Birtell began bringing Mountain Dew for everyone there.
Realizing he could do more than hand out soda, Birtell started his own non-profit, The Christian Birtell Group. Through the group, he reviews restaurants, hotels, airlines and other businesses in the hospitality industry and hands out awards. He also runs his own Christian ministry, Holy with Fire.
His senior year of high school, Birtell organized his first dinner for first responders. He raised the money on GoFundMe; however, it involved only one restaurant and no gift cards.
Also, during high school, Birtell worked with the Chicago transportation authority to provide sandwiches to homeless people on public trains.
Everything, Birtell said, he does now for others goes back to “thanking those two kids that helped me out.”
Meanwhile, Birtell is a full-time employee at University Hospital. He works in the cardiology department as a nursing technician and hopes to get into nursing school.
Birtell is making an impression. Even Missouri Governor Mike Parson has called to thank him for all the work he’s done and to offer his support.
Birtell is optimistic that targeting national issues through local community action will “catch fire” and spread elsewhere.
“If I can get the governor of the state to pay attention to me,” he said, “what’s stopping me?”