On a frosty winter day in 2003, Chantal Stefan was driving home with a friend in downtown Edmonton, when she saw a homeless man rummaging through a garbage bin.
It was pitch black, just before Christmas and around-30 C.
She had seen it before but that evening something was different. She felt like she could put her heart right next to the man in that garbage bin, and remembers thinking and wondering what his life must be like? All alone, at night, in the frigid Alberta winter.
They parked the car and right there Stefan decided that she had to do something to bring a little light into the lives of the homeless. But what?
How about baking some cookies, she thought.
So she and three friends went home and baked a big batch of sugar cookies, using one of her mom’s favourite recipes. They put them in a packages with a pair of Costco wool socks and a note saying that someone was thinking about them, take care, and Merry Christmas.
Then, they went out and distributed the care packages in Edmonton’s back alleys.
“That night our 88 care packages disappeared and Everybody Deserves a Smile [EDAS] was born,” Stefan explained in a video posted to the EDAS Project Facebook page in 2020, about the beginnings of this now Comox Valley-based charity.
Stefan is a deeply spiritual person and she says EDAS grew out of a calling. It was something she knew she had from a very young age but it took her a while to hear the call.
From that humble start, EDAS has grown in ways that Stefan never imagined it would, “taking on a life of its own,” she said.
And she manages it all from her busy classroom at Ecole Puntledge Park where she teaches Grade 1 French immersion.
Stefan leads the project but students are the volunteers, who spend time after classroom hours learning from community experts on homelessness and poverty, while putting together care packages, or EDAS bags.
Come early December, Stefan and the students, along with parent and teacher volunteers, hit the streets and shelters to hand out the care packages.
Today, Stefan has a team of 24 who are leading the EDAS project in schools across Vancouver Island, Powell River, Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, Red Deer, AB and Montreal.
In 2019 Stefan partnered with a local charity in London, England to bring EDAS overseas.
Making a positive impact, even if it’s small, on the lives of unhoused folks has always been the goal of EDAS. But so too is changing the lives of the student volunteers, some of whom will leave the program empowered and with a sense of community service.
“We’ve handed out to over 21,000 people, and we’ve been blessed to work with thousands of students and teachers,” Stefan said.
To learn more about EDAS go to: www.facebook.com/edasproject