The 2019 Everybody Deserves a Smile campaign is reaching its crescendo.
Thursday was the first of two packing days, where students from throughout the Comox Valley join the EDAS committee at École Puntledge Park to put together the care packages that will then be delivered to the needy in the Valley and beyond.
“Our goal this year is 1,160 people we want to give gifts to,” said EDAS founder Chantal Stefan, a teacher at École Puntledge Park. “We have 12 different locations to deliver to in the Comox Valley, which is about 600 people, and then we blanket help to Victoria, and East Hastings (Vancouver) as well.”
Students, parents and volunteers packed 500 bags on Thursday, with the remainder scheduled for Friday’s work party.
The history of EDAS began in 2003, when Stefan and three friends came up with an idea, while living in Edmonton.
The four of them baked up some sugar cookies, wrote notes on little pieces of construction paper, added a pair of socks and put all the contents into little Christmas bags. They made 88 bags, went down the back alleys of downtown Edmonton, right before Christmas, and hung the bags where people would see them and pick them up.
“They all disappeared overnight, and Everybody Deserves a Smile was born,” said Stefan. “We had no intention of it ever being more than just being in that moment. But it has grown ever since.”
The campaign, while in the spotlight in December, actually takes most of the first half of the school year, from start to finish.
“It starts for me in August, then really ramps up at the beginning of October, then goes full force then until the end of January. It slows down a little bit after Christmas,” said Stefan.
Lilah Sunderland was one of the nearly three dozen Grade 7 students chosen to be part of the EDAS student team this year. She said she has been wanting to be a part of the EDAS team for many years.
“Being a part of EDAS is a really big thing – I have been waiting to be a part of this since kindergarten, basically,” she said. “Just making a difference; it means a lot.
“We learn a lot, and it just gives us a different look on everything.”
The 2019 campaign is the 16th year of the project, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Nor does Stefan.
What keeps her going?
“Every year I hear the impact and I hear how much they [students] love it and how much they want to be part of the group, and how much it affects who they become, that’s what keeps me going,” she said. “As we have grown, there have been times where, because I am also teaching full-time, I think I just can’t keep doing both, but when I hear how inspired the students are, and how our community comes together, it just makes it all worth it, every year.
“The impact of the work is so fulfilling. Those receiving cannot believe that people have taken the time to see them, and love them, and that… handing out just that one bag… keeps me going throughout the year. We are making a difference in people’s lives who are really struggling, and they are super grateful for that.”