By ROBERT DIGITALE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Joey Lucchetti thinks he’s found the secret to life: Help others, especially the needy. “It makes me feel better when I have things that upset me in my life to do good works, and it helps to come face to face with poverty to give you an appreciation for what you have,” Lucchetti, a junior at Cardinal Newman High in Santa Rosa, wrote in a recent email. “That’s the secret to life, I think.”

Lucchetti, 16, a Sonoma resident, has volunteered with the Redwood Gospel Mission, handing out backpacks and coats at the organization’s annual events.

Joey Lucchetti, 15, is a junior at Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

But he has gone a step further, going out each month to give street people small gift bags containing a few basic personal items. And this summer and fall he’s organizing a coat drive to help add to the warm clothes the mission will hand out at Thanksgiving.

Cardinal Newman Principal Graham Rutherford called Lucchetti “just an outstanding guy.”

“His empathy and compassion stand out to me,” Rutherford said.

Two years ago Lucchetti was was one of two freshmen selected for his school’s Christian Gentlemen award. And as a sophomore he received the All-Around Male Award.

The youngest of three siblings, Lucchetti plays basketball and runs track for Cardinal Newman. He formerly played on the football team.

This summer he joined Tomorrow’s Leaders Today, the yearlong youth leadership program that brings together high school juniors from a number of Sonoma County campuses.

And he recently joined the Sonoma Police Explorer program.

Lucchetti said he got the idea for the gift bags when he began to wonder what he could do to help the many homeless people he saw around him. He found a YouTube video by a girl who put together gift bags, displaying some of the basic things that street people need.

“I just thought it was a cool idea,” he recalled of the video. Though inexpensive, a gift bag shows the homeless “they are cared about, and everyone is important.”

Lucchetti typically hands out 20 gift bags around the mission’s main facility near Railroad Square. The bags contain such items as a toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, wet wipes, deodorant and a few treats.

He pays for the items from his own savings, earned from work at CYO Basketball, as well as from donations from his grandparents, parents and family friends.

Already he has lined up 50 coats for Thanksgiving, he said. He hopes to work with his former elementary school, St. Francis Solano, to gather more.

After high school, Lucchetti wants to attend college. His top choices now are UC San Diego and St. Mary’s in Moraga. He’s interested in a future career as a physician or in law enforcement, the latter being the profession of his father, Steve Lucchetti.

This fall he’s looking forward to the start of basketball season. And it would be great, he said, if his senior project could involve building homes or drilling water wells in Africa.

“It’s just a bigger experience” and a chance “to see other people who don’t have what we have,” he said.

Age: 16

Birthplace: Sonoma

Lives with: mom and dad, Tina and Steve Lucchetti

What’s in his iPod: rap, country, contemporary Christian, including Brett Eldridge’s “Don’t Ya.”

Favorite hobby: Shooting hoops

Dream job: Doctor, law enforcement

Favorite TV shows: “Gold Rush,” “Pawn Stars”

Favorite food: Burritos, enchiladas

Quote: Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”