Everybody Deserves a Smile is a not-for-profit organization that began in Edmonton in 2003 – about this time of year, right before Christmas – when four friends came together and made 88 care packages to leave on top of garbage bins in the backstreets of the Alberta capital’s downtown core.
Since its inception, the movement has grown and, a few years ago, reached our own community here on the Central Island.
Drew Swanson, a teacher at Southgate Middle School who has been involved in EDAS for some time, says the organization has been wanting to get schools involved “for about a half-dozen years,” and he wanted to help that cause. So when he got on at Southgate three years ago, he introduced the program to the students in his Grade 6/7 split.
They are hoping to collect and distribute 150 care packages this year.
But they’re not doing it alone.
“It’s really our class and another 6/7 split that are spearheading the thing,” Swanson says, “but it’s the whole school that’s involved. They’ve all been collecting things for the packages and getting into it, and that’s really great to see.”
Aside from the obvious benefits to the homeless community, Swanson says there is a huge value for the kids participating, as well.
“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to learn about the issues surrounding homelessness and get a real sense of how to be a global citizen,” Swanson says. In fact, the issues surrounding homelessness have been built right into the social studies curriculum.
“It’s important to get across to them that spreading kindness matters in this world.”
As part of the project, the children also tour the shelters in town and learn about the services and resources that are combating the social problems associated with homelessness.
“We’re trying to create global citizens and connect them worldwide, one community at a time,” he says.
To make the experience more personal for the kids and really make it memorable, Swanson says, the kids also hand paint the bags that will be filled with donations, and even create a handmade Christmas card for the recipient of the package.
There is a drop box in the foyer of Southgate Middle School where the public can drop off donations, and another at Sundance Java in the Willow Point Plaza.
Swanson says they are especially looking for donations of new, unused scarves, toques and mittens or gloves and wool socks.
Other essentials for the care packages, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and other toiletries have already been generously donated by local businesses.
Monetary donations are also welcomed. Cheques should be made out to “EDAS.”
They are accepting donations from the public through Dec. 11, at which time they will finish putting the packages together before handing them out on Dec. 17.
More information about the initiative can be found at edas.ca