A young angler from Bracebridge was left heartbroken after the theft of his tackle box, but soon after sharing the news online, he and his mother found themselves crying tears of joy at the community response.
Nine-year-old Khai Tonello’s tackle box was sitting on the dock when he left for school on Sept. 26 and gone when he came home that afternoon. Khai faces the daily challenges of growing up with ADHD and several other conditions, said his mother Brittany, and fishing is one of the few activities that truly calms him down and focuses his energy. To see him happy is a parent’s dream, she said, so she posted about the tackle box on Facebook in hopes of getting it back.
“Khai is special needs, and fishing is one of his outlets,” Brittany said. “When that happened, as a mother, my heart broke.”
The heartache didn’t last long, though, as around 100 messages flooded in of people wanting to donate money or supplies. Khai was shocked each time someone showed up. They had a lineup of cars coming to their house to bring donations the first day after the post.
Several tour companies also offered to bring him out on the water. They took Hooked Young Fishing Charters up on their offer last Saturday, marking Khai’s first ever official tour.
“I’m blown away how fast the word got out,” Brittany said. “He may not have got his tackle box back, but he learned so much from the community.”
Nicole Jones, manager of the Canadian Tackle Store in Orillia, was doing her morning scroll through Facebook when she saw Brittany’s post. She figured they could donate a few lures to help them out, and then she got an idea.
“We’re very much about young anglers and getting them into the sport and being supportive of the community,” Jones said. “I kind of thought, well, you know what, I probably can take it up a step and post it on our social media and see if anybody else wants to contribute to Khai.”
People and businesses from Ajax to Huntsville stepped up to donate. Companies like Trombly’s Tackle Box, Tackle One Sales and Canadian Tire donated supplies while others like WAM Baits sent care packages directly to Khai. They also had monetary donations ranging from $5 to $100, many of which came from Canadian Tackle’s customer base.
Jones used the money and donations to put together a new tackle box for Khai and drove it up to him in Bracebridge. She thought the donations would stop after the first day or two, but they kept coming in, so she ended up making two trips.
“He had mentioned he needed a new rod and reel, so we provided that along with a scale and a few other things for him,” Jones said. “The second time I saw Khai, he came out to me and he said, ‘Is it okay if I give you a hug?’”
Jones was happy to oblige, and she wants to thank all the people that made the donations possible. The fishing community is relatively small, she said, but they always pull together when they need to. She’s glad she could help out this time around, and she hopes it will remind people of the importance of being kind.
“I started fishing at a young age myself, and it’s something that I do personally to calm myself, to be in touch with nature and learn respect for things,” Jones said. “I can appreciate that Khai has some challenges, and if he found an outlet that supports him and makes him feel at ease, obviously, I think anybody would want to support that in a child and have them feel supported and good about themselves.”
Because of the overwhelming response, Khai feels that he has enough equipment and plans to pass along the extra items to another local child.
“Thank you for helping me, and I feel very lucky,” Khai said. “I’ll be sure to donate to other people too.”
Khai and his mother have been putting together a tackle box for the donation to help “somebody else become a little fisherman,” she said. They will add to it using the monetary donations they’ve received before passing it along to another local boy or girl.
Brittany plans to document Khai’s shopping trip and donation so he can share it on his Instagram and TikTok accounts. She wants to show people where their money and supplies are going while also thanking them profusely for their support.
“I cherish everybody’s generosity,” Brittany said. “It’s not even I appreciate it, I cherish it. They’ve made my boy’s dreams come true.”
Anyone interested in contributing to the donation of supplies to another local child can reach out to Brittany Tonello on Facebook.