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12-year-old buys $11,300 in Christmas presents for kids he doesn't know

Jonathan Werner earned the money selling more than $56,000 in Boy Scout popcorn.

CAMBRIDGE, Minnesota — Most people arrive at the Cambridge Fleet Farm to buy something.

Jonathan Werner came to sell. 

If he does his job well, the buying will come later. 

“Yes, I’ve done this before,” Jonathan says as he sets up a portable table just inside the store’s entrance.

From cardboard boxes, the 12-year-old Boy Scout plucks bags of flavored popcorn and chocolate-coated pretzels. He arranges them neatly on the table.

Credit: Chad Nelson/KARE 11
Members and parents of Jonathan Werner’s Boy Scout troop help wrap the gifts he purchased.

Then, a scout is transformed into a salesman.

“Hello, my name is Jonathan and I'm a Star Scout in Troop 506,” Jonathan says, beginning his pitch.

The day’s first few potential customers walk past, some not even pausing to acknowledge the young pitchman. Jonathan wishes each a “great day,” whether they are still within earshot or not.

Rejection comes with the turf.

“I just think of it as, for every ‘no’ that I get, you're one step closer to getting a ‘yes,’ Jonathan says.

As if on cue, Josh Mabry stops and listens. Josh is a former Boy Scout. He picks up two bags, one packed with salted caramel popcorn and the other with chocolate pretzels.

“One for the wife and one for me,” he says with a smile.

“That brings your total to $45,” Jonathan tells him.

The seal is broken. More sales follow.

Jonathan is in his element.

“He's always been that way,” Jonathan’s mom, Serena Kolk, says. “He will open up a store and he will stay until they close.”

Credit: Chad Nelson/KARE 11
Jonathan Werner (left) sells popcorn to Josh Mabry.

After listening to the spiel, a man tells Jonathan he has no cash.

Not missing a beat, the scout tells him, “I take credit cards.”

More earnest than aggressive, Jonathan clearly has a knack for gentle persuasion.

“He got me,” Trista Paulson laughs after making a purchase.

“He gets job offers all the time,” Jonathan’s mother says. “Which is funny, because he's 12.”

Twelve – and working an eight-county territory.  

Jonathan lists the counties in which he sells Boy Scout popcorn in stores and door-to-door. “Kanabec, Isanti, Pine, Chisago, Mille Lacs, Anoka, Hennepin and Sherburne.”

His mother pulls up pictures on her phone of the pallets of popcorn dropped off in the driveway. 

Another photo shows Serena’s grandmother’s sunroom, packed to the ceiling.

Credit: Serena Kolk
Jonathan poses Werner with some of the pallets of Boy Scoot popcorn delivered for his sale.

The national Boy Scout popcorn sale arrives annually with the fall colors. But the numbers are black and white.

“I raised $46,194 in popcorn last year,” Jonathan says.

In six years, Jonathan has gone from cub salesman to No. 1 in Minnesota and top three in the nation — and that's not even the best part.

Weeks have passed, the leaves have fallen, and Jonathan is now at the Kohl’s store next to the Fleet Farm.

No longer selling, Jonathan is now buying.

“Something like this would work,” he says, holding up a Barbie doll set.

Over the next few hours, Jonathan will load up a large, shelved, cart that Kohl's employees have wheel out for him. 

“We are going shopping to buy the Christmas presents for the foster care children and for the domestic violence shelter children,” Jonathan explains.

Let that sink in.

With his share of the reward money earned selling popcorn, Jonathan is buying Christmas gifts for kids living in a domestic violence shelter and for every foster child in four counties and part of a fifth.

“He reads what every kid writes and tries to find something he thinks they are specifically going to like,” Jonathan’s mother explains.

Credit: Chad Nelson/KARE 11
Jonathan Werner and his mother, Serena Kolk, check out after buying thousands of dollars’ worth of toys at Kohl’s.

The scout’s attention to detail will take extra time year because Jonathan sold even more popcorn than last year.

Serena pulls up her son’s sales page on her phone.

She smiles as she reads the total.

“$56,396,” she says proudly.   

Serena’s son topped last year’s total by more than $10,000.

“There were a lot of days at the end where, I was like, ‘Okay, can we go home? And he was like, ‘Nope. I have to stay; I have to stay,’” Serena says.   

Where does a 12-year-old find such motivation?

“My dad was in foster care when he was a kid,” Jonathan says. “It didn't really sound like they had much of a Christmas.”

Raising the money and shopping for toys “kind of reminds me how many people I will make happy during the holidays and that just makes me happy,” Jonathan says.   

The bulging cart Jonathan and his mom wheel to the Kohl’s cash register is a lot like Jonathan’s heart.

“Pretty full,” he says.

Two clerks at a separate register are assigned to Jonathan. They scan and bag while Jonathan removes toys, cosmetics, and children’s clothing from the oversized cart.

“It’s unbelievable,” one of the clerks says.  

Credit: Chad Nelson/KARE
Jonathan Werner poses with some of the toys purchased with the proceeds of his popcorn sale.

Jonathan reads the total off the cash register’s screen. "It says, $2,336 and seven cents,” he says.

And this is just the first stop on what will be a multi-day shopping spree, including Walmart, Fleet Farm and Amazon.

By the time he’s done, Jonathan will have purchased 600 presents.

At a gift-wrapping party, in early December, Jonathan stands in front of the bounty.

“All these presents, together, are around $11,300,” he says.

Like Santa’s workshop a week before Christmas, Jonathan’s fellow scouts man the tables filled with gift wrap, tape and scissors.

Steve Kolk, Jonathan’s Dad, sorts gifts by county, helping bring order to the chaos.

The former foster child inspired the son who’s making Christmas better for children now in foster care.

“He has so much drive that he wants to go bigger and bigger,” Steve says.

Jonathan's eventual goal? Gifts for every foster child in the state.

Credit: Chad Nelson/KARE 11
Ammie Carlson gives Jonathan Werner a hug at her front door when she learns how the 12-year-old spends the money he raises selling popcorn.

“I just want to make kids happy for Christmas and let them know they are loved and appreciated,” Jonathan says.

Why not, when you’ve already accomplished so much?

And you’ve yet to turn 13.

Boyd Huppert is always looking for great stories to share in the Land of 10,000 Stories! Send us your suggestions by filling out this form.


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