January 20, 2022

$5K buoys Niver’s ark

Boy, 7, raises funds to supply village with animals

Sarah Bullock/staff reporter

Eli Niver, 7, admires a Christmas tree ornament Monday at Bru 64 on Main Street in Cortland. Eli raised more than $5,000 by selling ornaments and asking for donations for Heifer International, a charity that provides farm animals to impoverished communities.

Seven-year-old Eli Niver loves all sorts of animals: his two cats, his aunt’s two horses, his grandparents’ cows. He wants to be a veterinarian.

So when he saw the chance, he gave a village an ark full of farm animals.

It started when Eli came across his great-grandmother’s Heifer International catalogue.

The nonprofit organization provides farm animals and farming support to communities around the world, from the United States to South America to Africa.

A share of an alpaca can cost $20, and provides wool to the farmer. A flock of chicks can provide eggs and eventually meat. What caught Eli’s attention was an ark: two water buffalo, two cows, two sheep, two goats, bees, chicks, rabbits and more for an entire village to benefit from. Milk, wool, honey, eggs and more.

The cost? $5,000.

“A share of an alpaca wouldn’t be enough for a whole village,” Eli said.

Eli’s mom, Katie Niver, had some doubts.

“As a single mom, I knew that $5,000 was a very steep price tag. So I told him that we’d have to think about it,” Niver said. “The whole ride home he was quiet and when I asked him what he was thinking about, I got, ‘I’m working on a business proposition in my head, Mom.’”

At dinner that night, Eli was ready for his presentation: His mom could sew Christmas ornaments, with supplies she donated, and he would sell them to raise money for the donation.

“I laughed a little but agreed to help him out, not even realizing what I’d gotten myself into,” Niver said. “I figured, he’s 7. He’ll forget about this all by morning. Nope, he slept with the catalogue.”

He buttered Mom up.

“I think the words, ‘I think they’d be easy for you to sew, Mom,’ came out of his mouth,” Niver said. “But it was a labor of love, for sure.”

“I was thinking we could use something to sell,” Eli said. “It was around Christmas time, so I was thinking ornaments.”

Eli and his mother compromised on a goal: raise $1,200 to fund a veterinarian training program, and opened an ornament workshop, adding grandmother and great-grandmother to the payroll. With production secure, Eli moved onto his sales pitch.

Eli approached the friars at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Cortland. He wanted to address the congregation.

“Which he did!” Niver said. The hardest part was finding a stool so he could see over the podium.

Eli explained he had learned about St. Francis of Assissi in class at St.Mary’s School. St. Francis loved animals and Eli said he would like to give animals to people who need them.

More than 100 poinsettia ornaments were snapped up at $5 apiece, Niver said. Neighbors donated a bucket of loose change that added up to $250. An anonymous $500 gift showed up in an envelope at the front door.

On Wednesday, Niver sat down to tally the total donations.

“I knew we were over his original goal of $1,200 just by doing the quick mental math in my head as donations rolled in,” she said, “but I was completely shocked when I got to the final total of $2,618.”

Because Niver works for McNeil and Co., a subsidiary of the insurance business Arch Capital Group, which matches employees’ charitable donations. Eli’s donation doubled.

“So not only did Eli raise $2,618, Arch is making a donation on his behalf of the same amount,” Niver said.

“Hopefully, this will teach a lesson to all 7-year-olds that kids can make a difference,” Eli said. “I would also like to say a big ‘thank you’ to St. Anthony’s and St. Mary’s.”

He paused: “And my mom.”