The 2018 Everybody Deserves a Smile campaign shifted into high gear Thursday, with the first packaging day for this year’s gift bags.
The École Puntledge Park Elementary school gymnasium was turned into a packaging warehouse, with children from throughout the Comox Valley participating.
The Everybody Deserves A Smile project is an annual project that brings care packages and inspirational messages to the less fortunate in the community.
This year, 19 Comox Valley schools took part in the philanthropic project that teaches empathy and sharing to elementary and middle school students throughout School District 71.
|Five-year-old Hattie Kaufman, a NIDES kindergarten student, fills her bag at the Everybody Deserves A Smile packaging day.|
The project is the brainchild of Mme. Chantal Stefan, who originally came up with the idea 14 years ago, in Edmonton, Alta.
She and three friends wanted to make a difference, for those in need at Christmastime.
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.”
This year marks the 15th EDAS campaign, and the project’s success never ceases to amaze Stefan.
There was a target of 1,155 care packages this year, and for a while, Stefan was concerned she might have set her sights too high.
She put out a plea on Facebook a week ago, and let the generosity of the Comox Valley take over.
“We call them EDAS miracles. We needed 580 men’s gloves, and we needed 247 scarves … we needed about 1,000 donations still, just six days ago,” said Stefan. “But something is magical about this whole thing. It just comes in. We got a really big push about five days ago and then in the last two-and-a-half days… people really stepped up. People were sharing the post left, right and centre, and people just went out of their way to make it all happen.”
The care packages go to 13 different agencies locally, as well as agencies down-Island and the Downtown East Side in Vancouver.
Stefan said the although the project is in its 15th year, the feeling never gets old.
“You see people step up in ways you read in children’s books. It’s absolute inspiration. And to see how engaged the kids are, to see how hard the teachers work at bringing this powerful lesson, that everybody is somebody and we deserve to be loved no matter what. It doesn’t get old, because it’s never the same. I always think every year it can’t get any better but it always does. It gets bigger, and deeper, and our kids are unbelievable with it. They are the inspiration and motivation we need as leaders to keep going.”