Austin Perine, 5, and his dad, T.J., attend the Show Love Fest on Sunday in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Austin came up with the Show Love campaign as a way of helping feed homeless people. He travels around the country to raise money and raise awareness of homelessness. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

When Austin Perine puts on his cape, he says he feels happy, strong and ready to take on the world. The ­5-year-old isn’t talking about pretend play. Austin has a real-life crusade: to save the world from homelessness.

For the past year, he has traveled the country, feeding homeless people and supporting animals in shelters as part of his Show Love campaign. He also has another campaign in mind. Austin hopes to become president one day to chase the bad guys and save people from going hungry. He insists he must wear his cape when he becomes the leader of the free world.

“President Perine” turned up in Gaithersburg, Maryland, on Sunday for a Show Love event the Montgomery County Humane Society held to raise money to help animals in local shelters. There was a kissing booth featuring therapy dogs that Austin and local residents enjoyed. The dogs sat in the front row with the audience as Austin shared his story.

When he was 4 years old, he became curious after watching a red panda on television with his dad, T.J. Perine.

“It all started when I was watching a mother panda and her cub. She left him, and I was concerned. My dad told me that the cub would be homeless,” Austin told KidsPost.


Austin gives a hug to Tinkerbell, a therapy dog who was part of Sunday’s Show Love Fest. The event raised money for shelter animals, another part of Austin’s campaign. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Austin learned that people can be homeless, too.

“He was fixated on the idea of homelessness and kept asking me questions,” T.J. says.

He eventually took Austin to see what homelessness looked like in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. Austin realized he wanted to do more. Wearing his red cape — which a friend left behind from a play date — Austin and his dad started passing food out once a week. He would run fast like the Flash, his favorite superhero, to hand people a sandwich and soda.

“Don’t forget to show love,” he would say to each person, encouraging them to “pay it forward.”

The two did this for months before getting noticed by media outlets. Austin was awarded keys to the Alabama cities of Prichard and Mobile for his efforts in fighting hunger. Since then, support from big names has grown.

Celebrities, such as comedian Steve Harvey and basketball players Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, have reached out to express their support. Austin and Harvey joined forces to donate more than $5,000 to help feed the hungry. James has praised Austin’s efforts. In a letter, the basketball star wrote, “when it gets tough, you keep fighting. When it seems like no one else cares, you keep caring.”

With their support, Austin has fed the homeless in more than a dozen cities such as San Juan, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, Washington.

Not only is Austin a superhero, but he also is a two-time state champion wrestler in Alabama. He showed off his signature move, the “DDT lawn mower,” with local pro-wrestlers at the Show Love event in Maryland.

T.J. says he hopes his son’s enthusiasm inspires other kids.

“I would like for the future to look like several President Austins taking the throne after he has grown up,” he says. “If there are younger kids that are 4 years old that want to be like him to make their communities better, then we have done our job.”

As for Austin, he says he wants to continue spreading the love “because it is the right thing to do.”