A longstanding tradition to help the homeless is once again running this year.
Chantal Stefan is a Grade 1 French Immersion teacher at Puntledge Park Elementary School and she started the ‘Everybody Deserves A Smile’ program 17 years ago here in the Comox Valley.
Thanks to the help of students she is able to create and send over 2,000 care packages every year to adults and children experiencing homelessness in the Comox Valley, Nanaimo, Powell River, Victoria, Vancouver, and Red Deer every year.
Usually, students hand-paint bags that are stuffed full of goodies, but Stefan says the team will have to make a few changes this year because of the virus.
“What we did is we created an envelope style care package instead of the bag packages. The bags are normally decorated and hand-painted by students, which is outstanding, but really a lot of work for teachers, so we went to envelopes.”
“Instead of having eight items coming in from our community donated by families, local businesses and everybody else we came down to about five items. So what we were asking this year, instead of actual homemade shopping items- and people who knit all year round- we’re inviting people to donate financially,” she added.
Stefan says with the cash donations, the team will buy wool socks and hand sanitizers, as well as toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap. She is also encouraging those who submit a donation to include a note, which will be included in some of the packages.
COVID-19 is also changing the way the packages are sent out. Stefan says students are usually the ones to hand-deliver the gifts all over the island but this year it will be made up of all adults.
She says when the students can connect to those receiving the gifts, it can change the way they look at homelessness.
“Students will know that there is homelessness and poverty but they won’t fully understand what the causation or the dehumanization of homelessness is.”
“People living on the streets, when they receive these care packages, it’s incredible to see the response.
“For a student to carry that and be part of that, has been transformative. We’ve had students who have literally shifted in their core in terms of their ideas, their belief systems, their understanding that this is a person. It’s crucial if we want students and ourselves to fully understand people are people, then we need to get out there and do something about it.”
The goal this year is to create and send out 1,200 packages locally.
If you would like to donate or want to learn more about the Everybody Deserves a Smile project, visit their Facebook page.