Forget Santa Claus, this trio of North Delta teens has taken over bringing Christmas cheer where it’s needed most. And this year, they’re expanding.
Going home for Christmas is an age-old tradition during the holiday season, a story told a thousand times over, but what about those who don’t get to go home?
Best friends, Emma Vanderlee (12), Makayla Bennett (12) and Jennyka Cozzuol (13) had an idea four years ago to do something special for kids stuck celebrating Christmas in local hospitals.
It all started when Emma visited the pediatric ward at Surrey Memorial Hospital in early December 2016.
“I had lots of questions for my mom. I told my mom I wanted to do something special to help the kids out and enjoy Christmas, especially if they couldn’t be home for the holidays,” Emma said. “We really want the hospital to kind of be like home for Christmas for all the families that can’t be home. My two best friends and I came together and have been doing this every year since.”
Every year since they started, Emma, Makayla and Jennyka have exceeded their fundraising goals and followed up with an even stronger campaign the following year through every sort of entrepreneurial endeavor, including making and selling home-made “slime.”
This year, they’ve managed to do more than ever, raising nearly $5,000 in toys and cash — more than double their 2018 total — to bring Christmas cheer where it’s needed most.
For their 2019 fundraising effort, the girls helped BC Children’s Hospital, Deltassist and the Surrey Christmas Bureau’s Adopt-A-Family program, while also raising money for a family friend who recently learned that his cancer had returned.
“I feel it’s important to be a part of your community and to make it a better place,” Jennyka said.
“Christmas is a very special time to do this for those who are dealing with any struggles or with being sick, because Christmas should be about happiness and giving — they are already dealing with so much.”
The girls admit that it took a ton of leg work, through Christmas fairs at North Delta schools and their fourth annual Sundowner Pub Toy Drive, but that it was just the right thing to do.
“It was never really our goal to grow this into something bigger, we just knew we wanted to help people. It was kind of a surprise to see how quickly it did grow and to see how many others wanted to help,” Makayla said. “There are so many people that aren’t able to spend time with their families, so hopefully we are able to help them smile a little bit during [Christmas].”