Some things are immutable.
Night follows day. What goes up must come down. A 10-year-old boy in possession of an enormous candy bar will eat it.
But there’s a kid in the North End who so defies one law of nature that you might find yourself questioning that gravity thing. His name is Francis Shea, and he’s a fifth-grader at St. John School, in North Square.
A few months ago, St. John’s had one of those fund-raisers where kids sell boxes of candy bars — or, more precisely, where kids give the chocolate bars to their parents, who take them to the office to be snapped up by flagging colleagues in search of a midafternoon sugar rush.
But this 10-year-old’s parents, a yoga instructor and an electrician, don’t work in offices. Francis was on his own. So when he announced that he was going to sell more candy than anybody else in his school, his mother wondered if that was really possible. At first.
“The candy never came home,” Karen Shea said a few days ago. “He’d get a box at school, then he’d sell it before he got home that evening.” Every afternoon, Francis and a few buddies stood outside the Nazzaro Center, the Boston Centers for Youth and Families facility where he attends an after-school program, selling the chocolate to passersby. Together, they moved major product — 210 candy bars in all.
One day in late March, Francis was summoned to the principal’s office.
“I thought I was in trouble,” said the blue-eyed, sandy-haired, soft-spoken boy. Instead, she had good news. Francis had sold more chocolate than anybody else in his school. His prize: a 5-pound Hershey’s Bar.
If you like chocolate, 5 pounds of it is something to behold. Cradling the 18-inch-by-9-inch slab, any ordinary adult — say, a middle-aged reporter with a thing for cocoa — might feel a strong urge to gnaw off a corner or two on the spot.
Francis loves chocolate, and he’s 10, so his mother expected him to do likewise: “I would have thought that it would be under his bed and he’d be chiseling away at it, night after night.”
But there would be none of that. Even before he won it, Francis decided he was going to raffle off the sugary slab for a good cause.
“I thought of cancer, then I thought of cystic fibrosis,” he said. His beloved art teacher at the Nazzaro, Josephine Lepore, has a granddaughter with the latter disease, and the center has held fund-raisers for research in the past, “so I knew it was a bad disease,” the boy said.
He went right back out on to the street again, this time hitting up locals and tourists to buy one raffle ticket for $1, six tickets for $5, or 25 tickets for $20. At first, he’d hoped to raise $500. He blew past that in a few weeks. So far, he’s up to $1,073.
“I had a lot of help,” Francis said, insisting that his assistants’ names be mentioned: Dominic, Antonio, Mattea, Michelle, and Declan. Others have offered, too. “I hate to say it, but sometimes I don’t let all of them help because there are too many of them,” he said.
It doesn’t hurt that he’s doing this in a tight, magical neighborhood, where the streets are alive every day and where everybody still knows everybody despite massive gentrification. Also helpful: The kid is adorable.
The raffle will be drawn on Thursday at the Nazzaro’s annual barbecue.
Until then, Francis will be working it, just as he was on a recent afternoon. He leaned against a fence on Prince Street, with his white bucket and his raffle tickets, while kids played a noisy game of basketball on the playground behind him. He delivered his pitch fast, and in a single breath: “Would you like to buy a raffle ticket for cystic fibrosis to win a 5-pound Hershey Bar?”
Some people didn’t hear him. Some stopped and bought one, or six. “I’ve already bought seven!” one passing woman said with a laugh. A few people bought six tickets apiece and told him to put his own name on them.
“I don’t only put my name on them,” he said, concentrating hard as he wrote Dominic’s name beneath his own. “I know he’d do the same for me. It would be really cool if one of my friends won.”
Perhaps you doubt that such a kid exists. Perfectly understandable. So don’t take my word for it. Francis Shea will be back on Prince Street on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons, with his dimples, his would-you-like-to-buy-a-raffle-ticket-for-cystic-fibrosis-to-win-a-5-pound-Hershey Bar pitch, and his red raffle tickets.
Go see for yourself. And bring a few bucks.