Tanner's Totes Exploding

Since his Story was Told by ESPN, Smith’s Non-Profit has Exceeded $20,000 in Donations

It’s organized chaos. That’s the best way Tanner Smith can describe what the basement at his parents’ Alpharetta, GA home looks like these days. Smith’s non-profit organization, Tanner’s Totes, has overtaken what was once a large game room for he and his friends, since ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil told the world about his smile-making tote bags in February of 2009.

“I don’t know how my mom is able to keep up with it,” Tanner said, laughing. “I don’t want to say my mom is a neat freak, but she enjoys having things in their place, but that basement is full. It’s organized, but there is Tanner’s Totes stuff everywhere.

“It used to be everything was in a closet, and everything stayed there. Now everything has moved from the closet and it is in this game room. Everything is on ping pong tables, pinball machines, the Pac-Man machine, it’s all in there, and now it’s in another room before that room, too. It started in the closet and everything was organized in there, and now it has moved into three rooms.

“She has done a great job keeping up with it, but it’s a messy organization that she is able to know where everything is. She makes sure when I’m home that I take stuff to the right place and that I don’t move anything around, because that will throw her off completely.”

The overwhelming generosity of the people who have caused this overflow hasn’t thrown Kathy Smith off, nor will it ever. Since Tanner’s story moved across the Internet, the newspapers and television last winter, Tanner’s Totes has seen its donations exceed more than $20,000 in the last 12 months, while the production of the totes themselves has doubled.

For those not familiar with Tanner’s Totes, it’s an organization Tanner, with his parents’ backing, began when he was 12 years old with the idea of catering more to preteens and teenagers who were suffering through long-term cancer treatments. Through a friend who worked at an Atlanta-area hospital, Kathy discovered that the little kids were well taken care of with toys and those kinds of things, but few hospitals had the things preteens or teenagers were interested in.

That’s where the concept of Tanner’s Totes took off. Kathy went shopping and gathered up nail polish and manicure sets for girls and nerf basketballs and footballs for the boys, as well as several other useful items they can take with them when they go to and from treatment.

Kathy now makes a special stop at the Seneca Wal-Mart from time to time as each tote bag also gets a Clemson hat. In all, each tote cost about $60 prior to shipping.

Tanner got the inspiration to start Tanner’s Totes when he was in the fourth grade while writing a school paper, which was set to the topic of “three things he wished for.” The first thing Tanner wished for was a puppy, the second was to be a professional basketball player and the third was to help put a smile on the faces of kids who were suffering from long-term illnesses.

Tanner got his puppy, Griffey – a golden retriever named after his favorite baseball player Ken Griffey, Jr. that is now 10 years old – that Christmas. He is about to finish up his sophomore year as a starter for Clemson’s basketball team, and Tanner’s Totes is now in its seventh year and only getting bigger.

“He amazes us,” Kathy said. “He gets so excited when he hears a group or someone is interested in helping, or if he is going to speak about it. I think it continues to show him that this little wish that he had as a fourth grader is truly, truly from God. It just continues to be reiterated to him that this is what he is supposed to being doing with his life.”

Tanner’s father, Craig, tears up when he talks about how proud he is of his son. Craig knows all too well what Tanner’s Totes means to the people he sends them to. He himself is a cancer survivor, who has been cancer free for many years now, but still suffers from