By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
Benton Stevens of Steiner Ranch got a tweet by Donald Trump Jr. on Thursday “Love American entrepreneurship. Well done buddy! Benton Stevens of Austin sells hot chocolate for border wall money.”
As of Friday morning, the 7-year-old had raised some $10,000 in less than a week to help build the proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. His fundraising began at a local hot chocolate stand and exploded from there.
This week Sean Hannity, national conservative talk show host, affectionately referred to Benton as the “hot chocolate boy” during one of his shows. He’s been on Fox & Friends, a daily morning conservative news/talk program. Local TV stations and the Austin American-Statesman covered the story. The Todd and Don Show NewsRadio KLBJ featured Benton on Feb. 20 when he thanked his supporters.
News organizations across the world have picked up the story. The family has been contacted by 15 or so news outlets, said Shane, Benton’s dad.
Jennifer, Benton’s mom, has heard of the story appearing in Japan and the UK. People forwarded her photos of the articles in Polish and German.
Benton conducted one interview in his soccer uniform 10 minutes before leaving for practice.
“The best way to describe it, it’s been a whirlwind,” Jennifer said about the week’s events.
“We can’t help but support him because he’s so excited about it,” Jennifer said.
Benton has been featured in worldwide news stories because he took a bold stand last weekend to raise money for something he believes in, but reaction to it has been polarizing. In addition to his many supporters there has also been a lot of negativity about what he’s doing especially through social media where his story went viral.
One person driving by told the family that they “didn’t like brown people,” Shane said. Benton was referred to as a “little Hitler” by another. His parents have been accused of being racists and of brainwashing their son and exploiting him for political gain.
But his parents stand firm in their convictions in how they raise their four sons including supporting Benton, who wants to make a difference not unlike other children who host bake sales and lemonade stands for causes they believe in.
When Benton was asked how he felt about the mean things people were saying, he replied,
“I guess I need to say ‘thank you’ because that’s the reason I’ve been raising so much money.”
Benton got the idea to raise money for the border wall after listening to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address on Feb. 5. He heard about the wall and asked his parents more about it.
“‘I want a lemonade stand to raise money to help,’” Benton told his parents. Shane suggested hot chocolate might be better since it’s cold outside.
“Frankly I put it off knowing that someone may come by and say something negative. So I put put him off for a couple of weeks,” Shane said, but Benton did not forget.
So on Saturday, Feb. 16 they set up and people started popping in immediately. One customer posted it on the Steiner Ranch Moms & Tots social media page. Within a very short period of time it stirred up drama, Shane said. “It turned into a couple hundred comments and some too hateful to hear.”
The page moderator ended up taking the post down and the original poster apologized because they didn’t expect all of that, Shane said.
Benton made about $230 before they packed up for the day. “He had to leave due to angry liberals calling/griping at the business we set up by,” Shane posted on Facebook.
Not to be deterred, the next day Benton set up on the street where food trucks park near the back of Wag-A-Bag. Many supporters found him there and came by contibutting $20s and $50s for the cause. By Sunday evening he had raised $1,399.
Benton said he was surprised at how much money he has raised and that his favorite part about his stand was making and serving the hot chocolate.
“I thank the people that were nice to me,” Benton said.
People starting donating through Facebook so Shane created an official Venmo account @BentonsHotChocolateStand since donors were wanting to match donations and such.
Since funds cannot be donated directly to the federal government to build a wall, they will be donated to an appropriate campaign set up for that cause, Shane said.
“He’s standing up for what he believes. I’m happy to support him,” Shane said. “We know he’s not a racist and believe he has the right to free speech.”
Jennifer said she has seen a different side to Benton this week. He’s usually pretty quiet and shy.
“With this, I’ve never seen Benton so excited. It’s a completely different side of him, waving and smiling,” Jennifer said. “He was mad when we told him to pack it (the stand) up to go home.”
Shane said he doesn’t want this to divide the community, as some have accused on social media. He would rather people talk about such things and agree to disagree rather use an event like this to become divisive.
Tones started changing for some as the week went on. On the Fox News Shannon Bream clip, “she gave props to the folks who were strong enough to apologize for making mean/judgmental comments,” Shane posted on his Facebook page. “I really don’t know how Benton does it but we all need a forgiving heart like him!”
This has been a life-changing experience for Benton, who got to talk to two different parents who have lost a child to someone who is in the U.S. illegally. “One mom said how much it means to her that Benton is standing up and using his voice while he has one,” Shane said.
Trump’s campaign office reached out on Thursday and is sending Benton a care package. He has been invited to go to Washington D.C. and to a town hall meeting there. There are meetings in the works too to meet important political figures too.
“If you are passionate about something, pursue it with all your heart,” Shane said.