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Lending a helping hand

A group of social media savvy volunteers are hoping to put a smile on the faces of the homeless, seniors, people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations in Red Deer and across the province.

Provincial co-ordinator Terri Grills of SMILE Alberta said the groups are not meant to duplicate the good work that is already being done, rather the volunteers will supplement and support the organizations.

There are four chapters — Red Deer, Sylvan Lake, Edmonton and Calgary — that have already made a difference since SMILE Alberta launched on Facebook in early November.

SMILE is an acronym for Supporting Many Individuals By Lending Encouragement.

In Red Deer the volunteers have helped fill the Loaves and Fishes family hampers, donated items to the women’s and youth shelters, hosted a sock drive and served a hot lunch and Christmas party at Berachah Place.

Each chapter has a co-ordinator — Krista Gardipee in Red Deer — but Grills said they do not want the co-ordinator to do all the organizing and the work.

“We are encouraging people to take the information on our Facebook group and to take initiative and volunteer or fill a wishlist,” said Grills, who is from Red Deer. “And people are doing that.”

The Facebook page has information on organizations, addresses, phone numbers and “what’s needed” items. The group’s SMILE Red Deer group has 248 members and many have left testimonies of the work they have done.

Grills said people want to help but often they do not know where to start. They want SMILE to be a resource in the communities throughout Alberta.

“We’re using the power of social media big time,” said Grills. “This gives them a place to go and figure out what needs to be done.”

Starting in January, the volunteers will serve a regular hot lunch on Sundays at Berachah Place.

“They are struggling to stay open,” said Grills. “We have just connected with this place. We’ve made Berachah Place our special project.”

Other projects are in the works that will lend a hand to other vulnerable populations including those with disabilities and seniors. Grills wanted to stress SMILE Alberta is not a seasonal group.

“These people need help 365,” said Grills. “We don’t want to hit March and have people peter out. We don’t want to set people up for failure. We don’t want people to depend on us for lunches only to find out March, April we no longer have the resources.”

Grills said the organizations now know they can call SMILE when they need some extra help with a project or support.

SMILE Alberta was formed after its founding members an inspirational video on YouTube and wanted to do something to help out in the province. For more information visit SMILE Red Deer or SMILE Alberta on Facebook, email or or call Terri at 403-341-5385. The website will be launched in the new year.



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