Ecole Puntledge students putting the packages together for the 2016 EDAS campaign. (Record file photo)

Everybody Deserves A Smile back for its 15th year

Local students leading the charge of spreading Christmas cheer to the Valley’s most vulnerable

Christmastime truly is the season of giving and each year, the Comox Valley shows just how much it can give.

From knitting socks and toques, to donating handmade soaps, to baking thousands of sugar cookies, the community has stepped up for over a decade to make the Everybody Deserves A Smile campaign possible year over year.

Originally started in Edmonton by Chantal Stefan and three friends, the project is entering its 15th year and its 11th in the Comox Valley. Stephan started out by distributing handmade bags full of socks, cookies and Christmas cards throughout Edmonton back alleys to spread a little Christmas cheer, but never expected it to become the Island-wide campaign that it is now.

“It was supposed to be one moment in my life where I just knew I wanted to give and help people living on our streets,” said Stefan. “I had no expectations that this little movement would still be happening. We’ve handed out to over 14,000 people across Vancouver Island and beyond, and it’s because of thousands and thousands of students and staff, school communities and community members that have been helping us over the years.”

This year, Stefan is hoping to hand out 1,155 care packages to people experiencing homelessness throughout the Comox Valley, Victoria and East Hastings in Vancouver.

“Everybody is somebody,” said Stefan. “Everybody has a story and everybody deserves to feel significant and loved no matter what that story looks like and no matter what that reason to be living on the street.”

Nineteen local schools are participating in this year’s campaign and Stefan says it offers a unique opportunity for students to learn about homelessness.

Ecole Puntledge students deliver care packages to Rockbay Landing Shelter in Victoria in Dec. 2017. (Facebook/Everybody Deserves A Smile)

“We’re all in this together and we’re all three life hits away from being homeless ourselves,” said Stefan. “We tend to think we’re protected, but oftentimes, we’re not. It’s allowing people to be ripped away from the label and seen as a person, a mother, a father, a former hockey player … We’ve forgotten that that’s a person on the street struggling with addiction and we’ve just labeled them as an addict or broken and there’s a whole person and a heart.”

This year, the campaign is looking for donations of woolen or part woolen socks, toques, mitts, gloves, scarves and toothpaste. Stefan is asking that socks, toques and gloves are size medium for women and extra large for men.

“I think deep down, everyone wants to help and support but they don’t know how. They don’t know how to make our world better,” said Stefan. “I think what’s spoken to a lot of people about our project is that you can buy a toothbrush or you can make a card or you can make a toque. It’s not overwhelming.”

In mid-December, the 470 students from École Puntledge Park Elementary School will be decorating and packing bags that will be delivered to people across the Island and Vancouver.

The eighteen other partnering schools will help deliver the bags to three communities, as well as tour shelters and soup kitchens along the way.

“They’re learning that not everybody has food, that not everybody knows where they’re sleeping, not everybody has security,” said Stefan. “They are also getting an understanding that they can actually become little difference makers.”

On Nov. 29, the community is invited to the EDAS 15th anniversary celebration. The celebration will include guided blessings and meditation with the intention of sending thoughts of love to those who are experiencing homelessness and to those who are donating their time and money to the cause. The evening will begin at 7 p.m. at École Puntledge Park.

Donations are being accepted until Dec. 10 and can be dropped off at any of the partnering schools or local businesses. A full list of drop off locations is available at EDAS.ca.

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