Operation Welcome to Canada distributed 80 care packages for young Syrian refugees and other immigrants who arrived in Red Deer since January.
Donations to the project, developed by Grade 9 student Kaitlyn Borchers, filled a total of 250 shoeboxes for babies to 18-year-olds with age-appropriate personal items like toothbrushes and toothpaste, along with small toys, story books, colouring books, journals, scarves and more.
Remaining shoeboxes will be distributed by Catholic Social Services and Central Alberta Refugee Effort throughout the year as immigrants arrive.
Borchers, a student at St. Francis of Assisi School, said she wants to continue the project again next January and hopes to expand it to include more immigrants moving into communities outside Red Deer.
She said the boxes are like “a warm welcome to them and show them that we appreciate that they’re here.”
Borchers started the project when she learned more about the crisis in Syria and that some Syrian refugees were coming to the city.
Red Deer was quick to respond, she said.
“The generosity from people and citizens and businesses is quite overwhelming and shows that people think of (Syrians) as equals,” Borchers, 15, said on Tuesday.
About $1,330 was also raised to purchase items for the boxes.
Some students decorated shoeboxes that they donated before filling them up. Borchers recalled that one young girl wrote “You are as beautiful as a flower” on the shoebox that she donated.
Some students included handmade notes that said things like: “I hope you love Canada as much as I love Canada.”
Borchers said because of some of the negative attitudes surrounding the Syrian refugee effort a few people did question her project, but that didn’t discourage her because everyone deserves to be helped.
“If we were fleeing to another country because there was something wrong with ours, we would want people to welcome us with open arms.”
For more information about the project visit http://rdcrs.ca/faith/operation-welcome-to-canada.