WILMETTE – While most view Valentine’s Day as a time to connect with a loved one, others view it as an opportunity to share some love with those who need it the most. On February 2, a Wilmette group called the “Happy Helpers,” comprised of service-minded moms and children, took advantage of an early-release school day to spend the afternoon putting together Valentine’s Day packages to benefit the New Trier Township Food Pantry in Winnetka.
“I think it is a great experience for the children to feel like they are giving back to the community. It’s starting at a young age and I think it is a win win,” Carol Telling, a Wilmette resident who attended the event with her daughter and three grandchildren, told DailyNorthShore.
In an event space donated by A. Perry Homes in Wilmette, a group of about 45 moms and kids between the ages of five and 12 put together grocery bags full of fresh food and toiletries — chosen because food stamps do not cover hygiene products and fresh food tends to be pricey. Children gathered around a table, making handmade Valentine’s cards to add a personal touch to each bag. Each family participating donated all of the items for the event.
The brainchild of the event and founder of Happy Helpers is Wilmette resident Alexa Burnell, mother to four children two to eleven years old. “It is so good for kids to utilize the power they have to make a difference other’s lives,” Burnell said.
Burnell was inspired to start the organization after leading a Girl Scout troop and realizing that there was a need for more family-friendly service projects that make it relatively easy for families to give back to the community. “A lot of the moms here are charity minded and looking for family friendly events,” she explained.
As kids cheerfully worked together to fill the bags, Burnell observed the value of service projects for children, pre-teens and teens. She recalled her own childhood growing up in the Detroit area, where she volunteered as a Candy Striper at local hospitals and participated in an organization called Detroit Good Fellows, which raised money for the homeless.
“When I did something good for someone else it boosted my own self worth,” Burnell said. By organizing family-friendly service events, Burnell hopes to share those values with her own children and others.
Burnell chose the New Trier Township Food Pantry as the beneficiary of the project, as a way to instill the value of empathy for others less fortunate, and for kids to realize that there are needs in every community. “There are many people in this community that need assistance and many people don’t know about it,” Burnell said.
While the Happy Helpers have mostly focused on smaller-scale projects, such as caroling at local nursing homes and collecting warm weather gear through a Youth Connection charity event, Burnell hopes to continue to organize larger events like the Valentine’s Day project. But she will continue to focus on local service events that are simple, fun and continue to promote a culture of empathy.
Next up the Happy Helpers will be partnering with another group to volunteer at Hilda’s Place, a homeless shelter in nearby Evanston. Burnell feels inspired realizing that the group was able to donate 45 Valentine’s Day bags to the New Trier Food Pantry.
“I think the sky’s the limit. Doing an event here gets me so excited about the others things we can do,” Burnell said.