Provo teen raises money to buy nearly 400 wheelchairs for those in need, passes tradition on to sister

PROVO — After eight years, hundreds of wheelchairs and thousands of cookies, 14-year-old Zack Francom is ready to pass the torch.

Francom has sold lemonade and cookies for nearly a decade to raise money to buy wheelchairs for those in need and is ready to pass the tradition on to his sister, Helen Bird.

Francom was just six years old when he attended a school assembly by LDS Philanthropies where the charity challenged each class to raise enough money to buy one wheelchair to donate to those in need.

According to LDS Philanthropies, 20 million disabled people need wheelchairs but cannot afford one. The Humanitarian Services of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides wheelchairs and walking aids to those in need.

Francom knew he wanted to help but wanted to do something unique. After talking to his parents about the idea, the family decided to forgo spring break that year and open a lemonade and cookie stand in front of their home to raise enough money to buy one wheelchair (which cost approximately $86 at the time). The stand would soon become known as “Zack’s Shack.”

“We called family and friends and said, ‘Hey, this is what Zack’s doing, he wants to raise money for a wheelchair for the organization,”’ said Francom’s stepfather, Danny Bird. “So family and friends showed up and within a few hours he sold out of his cookies.”

Since then, Francom has continued the tradition each year, making Zack’s Shack a two-day event every spring break. After eight years, he’s raised around $85,000 and has been able to buy nearly 400 wheelchairs to donate across the world.

“It’s amazing to see it take off with everything he’s been doing and all the notoriety he’s been getting from national and international media,” Bird said. “It’s crazy to see how people have gravitated to the idea of someone as young as he is that had an idea of doing something that’s so generous and supporting such a good cause.”

Froncom even received a $25,000 grant from State Farm Insurance to donate to the charity and was awarded $5,000 by Steve Harvey to buy more wheelchairs. Thanks to Francom’s efforts, those all around the world have benefitted.

“Zack got a letter one year from a kid in Jordan that got a wheelchair … they were about the same age,” Francom’s mom, Nancy Bird, said.

Now that Francom is getting older, he’s decided to pass the tradition on to his younger sister, Helen, who just turned six. Zack’s Shack and Helen’s Hut worked side by side this year in front of the Bird’s house off Center Street in Provo. Next year, Helen’s Hut will continue the tradition alone.

“I liked talking to people,” said Helen of her experience. “Because I want to help make money for wheelchairs for people in other countries, I’m mostly excited to see more people next year.”

Friends, family and those from the community turned out for Francom’s last year and Helen’s first. Some even came from far away after hearing about the event on social media. While Francom and Helen sold cookies and lemonade for a dollar, those who came were more than generous.

“The cutest little ladies drove up from Payson,” Nancy Bird said. “They had read it in the newspaper and there were three of them and they were all dolled up and you know they were making a day of it. They gave Helen $30 and Zack $30. Helen gave them a little hug and the ladies were crying … they just want to be a part of it.”

And Francom hopes that many more get to be a part of what he’s built with the help of his family.

“It was a good (experience), but I know that I’m leaving it in good hands,” Francom said.