Last January, Sam Rideout spent four days at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, fighting a 105-degree fever and fending off flu-like symptoms that would eventually be diagnosed as an unusual children’s illness.

It was a scary time, one that the 10-year-old from South Portland doesn’t remember all that well, which his mother figures is probably for the best. But he does recall the toys he played with at the hospital when he was feeling up to it.

Some of the toys he recognized because Sam had raised $900 in 2016 and $2,000 in 2017 to buy Christmas gifts for the children’s hospital at Maine Medical Center in Portland. He funded his efforts by collecting returnable bottles throughout the community, which earned him the nickname “Sam the Bottle Man.”

This year, motivated further by his own experience, Sam upped his game significantly, delivering a total of $6,371 in gifts and donations to the hospital on Monday, and he plans to shoot even higher next year.

“It wasn’t fun,” Sam said of his recent hospital stay. “But the toys made it a lot better. It was pretty cool but weird at the same time to see the toys I bought being used by other kids.”

Starting from Skillin Elementary School, where Sam is a fourth-grader, South Portland police escorted Sam’s delivery van filled with new toys, games, dolls, Legos, electronics, video games, baby clothes and equipment requested by the newborn intensive care unit.

“We just wanted to give his effort the level of respect it deserves,” said Police Chief Ed Googins. “This young man has done a wonderful job raising a lot of money for some kids who are in an unfortunate situation this time of year.”

Sam eagerly helped his family unload the toys, evidence of how far he’s come since last January when he was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, an illness of undetermined origin that causes inflammation of the arteries throughout the body and can damage the heart.

Sam Rideout, 10, left, and his brother Bennett, 5, and sister Emery, 12, put toys into bins in a parking garage at Maine Medical Center on Monday. Sam, who is from South Portland and is known as “Sam the Bottle Man,” raised $6,000 for his toy drive, which he used to buy toys for children in the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital.

About 4,200 U.S. children are diagnosed with Kawasaki disease each year, according to the Kawasaki Disease Foundation. Although its cause is unknown, it’s not considered contagious. Usually, it’s contracted in the winter or early spring, by children under age 5, and more often by boys than girls. Sam made it through unscathed.

“He was so sick,” said Jaedra Rideout, Sam’s mom, who is a teacher. “Now he’s in the clear. The six weeks he had to take off from playing hockey was the hardest part for Sam.”

She described Sam as an “old soul” who has always shown compassion for others. “But he really didn’t know what it was like to be sick,” she said.

After his illness, Sam was driven to do more. In addition to collecting bottles on his own, with help from the South Portland Redemption Center, he organized several bottle drives and held a special fundraiser at the American Legion in October, charging a bag of bottles as admission to a bounce house, craft activities and cotton candy.

Sam raised more than $5,000 in bottle refunds, which he spent on toys and other items that will be used in the hospital or given to families of hospitalized children who are unable to shop for gifts this year. He also raised about $1,000 in cash donations to the hospital. The hospital, in turn, enlisted Sam to help make a video on gift-giving guidelines.

“We’re really thankful to be part of a generous community,” said Meaghan McNamara, the hospital’s philanthropy coordinator. “But it’s even more special when it’s kids helping other kids.”

After unloading the gifts Monday, with help from his father, Brandon Rideout, a lobsterman, his older sister, Emery, and his younger brother, Bennett, Sam the Bottle Man was already setting his fundraising goal for 2019.

“I want to try to do $10,000 next year,” he said.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard


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