LIVERMORE -- During a brutal cold snap that dropped temperatures into the low 20s, one Livermore girl did her part to keep the homeless warm through the winter.
Concerned about how those living on the streets would survive the frigid conditions, 8-year-old Autumn Le, a third grader at Leo Croce Elementary School, decided the money she'd scrimped and saved from two years of birthdays, Christmases and Chinese New Years would be better spent on something bigger than herself.
Keeping just enough to buy a goldfish and a fishtank, she used the remaining $400 she'd collected in her piggy bank to buy 25 sleeping bags to donate to the homeless.
"I see the homeless people in the street, and I wonder how they sleep," Le said. "In the winter when I go out, I have a jacket and it's still really cold; the homeless people only have one layer of shirt on. I decided I wanted to help them."
Her brothers Bo and Nguyen called her "super-crazy" for coming up with the idea. Mother Jasmine Ngo, a teacher at Christensen Middle School, didn't think her daughter would actually go through with it.
"She was very thoughtful. She said 'I feel bad for the people outside. What can we do?' " Ngo said. "I didn't want to discourage her from helping ... I'm very proud of her."
Wanting to help as many people as possible, Le wrote a letter to Walmart asking them to "lower the price for the sleeping bags" so she could afford to buy more. The letter reads, in part: "I know it has been very cold and I see a lot of homeless people and that makes me sad. I wonder how they sleep when it's freezing outside."
When she and her mother went to the Walmart in Livermore to buy up all the sleeping bags they had in stock, Le showed the letter to a supervisor. Store manager Sunny Edmisten told her whatever amount she was short, the store would cover the difference, amounting to about $50. Edmisten said although Walmart usually donates to nonprofits, once she saw the letter, she had to do something.
"Everybody who read it started tearing up," Edmisten said. "Most kids her age get pretty greedy around Christmastime, and here she was thinking of what she could give. That struck me as being something special."
Le and her mother left with three carts loaded with sleeping bags. Stacking them in the family SUV, they drove around town, handing out a couple to some homeless men they saw outdoors. They dropped the rest off at the Livermore Homeless Refuge.
Refuge co-founder Bob McKenzie said he was "overwhelmed" by the gesture, which will help fill a need for their weekend shelter at Holy Cross Lutheran Church and replenish their sleeping bag inventory.
"You've got people dying in the street, and this little girl cared enough to spend her life savings," McKenzie said. "We were really impressed."
Thanks to Le's persistent efforts, Croce Elementary has begun a sleeping bag donation drive, which will last until the end of January. The school intends to turn the drive into an annual event.
"I was very struck by her general concern for other people far beyond her years," said school Principal Vicki Scudder. "It's one thing to wish it, and it's another thing to make it happen. She had a sense of urgency."
Le -- who didn't even tell her friends what she'd done -- wasn't looking for notoriety; she's just happy for the chance to help more homeless. Her goal is collecting 100 sleeping bags through the drive.
"I think they're going to be warm," she said.
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.
Leo Croce Elementary School, 5650 Scenic Ave. in Livermore, will accept new and gently used sleeping bags for the homeless through January. For details, visit http://croce.schoolloop.com or call 925-606-4706.