When 4-year-old Austin Perine found out some people are homeless, his first instinct was to help.
One day, Austin was watching an animal show with his dad, T.J., and they saw a mom panda abandon her baby. Concerned, Austin asked what would happen to the cub. T.J. told him it would be homeless for a while, but it would eventually figure out how to live on its own.
Austin asked his dad if people ever become homeless. That question sparked a conversation about homelessness, a trip to see where homeless people live, and one of the sweetest outreach projects you'll ever see.
Austin wanted to give the homeless people he saw some food. So his dad bought 25 chicken sandwiches for him to hand out.
T.J. says he originally planned just to drive Austin by the area in Birmingham where homeless people live. But Austin wanted to talk to the people there — and offer them some food. So that's what they did.
"He liked it," says T.J. "The people were touched that a 4-year-old took the time to talk to them, and despite everything they were going through, they were able to smile because Austin was out there." People thanked T.J. for teaching his son to treat people who are down on their luck with dignity.
Austin hands out chicken sandwiches and sodas to Birmingham's homeless. Photo via T.J. Perine.
Austin liked it so much, he told his parents that he wanted to use all of his allowance to buy food for the homeless. Now, thanks to an ongoing donation from Burger King, Austin takes sandwiches to his homeless friends about three times a week.
"Feeding the homeless is the highlight of my life," he told CBS News.
Austin is a tiny hero with an important message.
Adding yet another adorable layer to this story, Austin dons a red superhero cape while he delivers his meals. As he hands each person a sandwich, he smiles and tells them, "Don't forget to show love!"
T.J. said his son asked to be called "President Austin" because he thinks that feeding the homeless is what a president is supposed to do. "I was like, 'Buddy, you have no idea,'" laughed T.J. in an interview with CBS. "But hey, I'm going along with it."
"He took this initiative on like a champion," T.J. says. "He looks forward to it."
Austin's parents have encouraged compassion throughout their son's young life.
T.J. thinks Austin's generous spirit is a solid mix of innate quality and learned behavior. Austin has an older brother who has autism, and Austin has gained compassion and generosity through helping him. "We compliment him when he does well with his brother," says T.J. "Austin helps him find things, helps him with his clothes ... so circumstantially, he has gained compassion that way."
Austin and T.J. are on a mission to #ShowLove to people down on their luck. Photo via T.J. Perine.
But T.J. said the key to his parenting philosophy is listening. "If I entertain Austin's interests, then in return, Austin is going to entertain the substance of what I want to talk to him about," he says. "So if he wants to talk about 'Cars 3' or 'Paw Patrol' or whatever a 4-year-old wants to talk about, then I make sure that I give him my undivided attention."
Whatever he's doing, it appears to be working. The duo has even started a fund to help fight hunger, and they just donated $5,000 to help build a shelter with services for the homeless in Birmingham.
Keep up the stellar parenting, T.J. And thank you for showing us all how to love, Mr. President. You've definitely got my vote.
Check out Austin's story on CBS News: