A man who was searching for food in a garbage bin on a freezing night 19 years ago in Edmonton had a profound effect on Chantal Stefan.
He inspired her and a few friends to fill handmade bags with treats, mitts and socks, which they placed in alleyways as gifts for people on the street. Their gesture morphed into the Everybody Deserves a Smile (EDAS) project that, for years, has been assisting vulnerable and homeless individuals in the Comox Valley and other communities.
“I wish I could meet that man,” said Stefan, a teacher at Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary in Courtenay whose efforts have been recognized by the provincial government. “He changed my life.”
Stefan is one of 15 British Columbians who have been selected to receive a Medal of Good Citizenship, which acknowledges dedication and service to community life.
She was nominated by Julia Chard — one of her first students to go through the EDAS Club program, and who now sits on the club’s teacher team. Julia is enrolled in the community mental health program at Vancouver Island University.
“She got really taken with the program,” Stefan said. “Julia was shy as a student. We’re watching her blossom. She’s become an inspirational teacher-leader.”
To date, students and other EDAS volunteers have handed out 23,000 holiday care packages to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, support agencies and to individuals on streets in the Comox Valley and other communities. By the end of this season, the program will have reached 26,000 people.
“Something like that doesn’t happen without incredible people working hard behind the scenes,” said Stefan, who is accepting the medal on behalf of students, teachers, parents, service club members and everyone else helping to brighten the holiday season for the less fortunate. “It’s truly remarkable. I’m so proud of everybody. I feel so much love for our community.”
Stefan will be presented the medal at a ceremony next year.
“It’s an honour to award these individuals with the Medal of Good Citizenship,” Premier David Eby said in a news release. “Each one of them embodies the traits of generosity, kindness and sacrifice for the benefit of others. Their actions touch so many lives, creating better communities throughout B.C.”
The EDAS team still needs about 600 scarves for men, women and non-binary individuals. Scarves will be accepted until Friday, Dec. 9. They can be dropped off at Puntledge Park Elementary. Care packages will be delivered this weekend.