Category Archives: Ideas

Good Golly Miss Dolly

We love hearing stories about secret admirers and anonymous gifts. Probably it’s because we know that if someone has chosen to keep their identity secret, it’s pretty clear they aren’t seeking acknowledgement – they just want to enjoy the pure pleasure of doing something nice for someone.

Also, packages are fun.

Sheza Hasan certainly seemed to have a good time opening the large present that was left on her doorstep last week. There’s no doubt it was a surprise indeed, given that the repurposed cardboard box once held disposable children’s pull-ups. Yet packed inside were over two dozen carefully hand-sewn cloth dolls. Each doll has her own fabric pattern, her own skin tone – and her own colourful, removable hijab.

That was the point of the gift, according to the accompanying note (stuffed inside a pink envelope with Sheza’s name, a curlicue and a heart). “I noticed that dolls wearing hijabs seem hard to find, so I made 25 simple ones,” the benefactor wrote. She – if indeed she is a she – added that she herself isn’t Muslim. “I’m not sure who to give them to, but I thought you might.”

Sheza, who lives in Milton, Ontario, calls the stealth seamstress a “wonderful soul” for making her feel accepted and welcome, especially since she has been on the receiving end of racist vitriol in the past. “Between being told by [a] stranger to ‘go back to my effing country’… this warmed my heart and reminded me that there are ALWAYS more good people out there than the other kind,” she wrote on social media.

Sheza herself wears hijab, and says she and her sisters never saw dolls that looked like them when they were little girls. “Growing up, we’re seeing images out there in the community, and none of them reflect us,” she told a news reporter. ”The only time we see something in the media, it’s usually negative.”

Thus when Sheza showed the dolls to her kids, she emphasized the kindness and respect behind this stranger’s efforts. Now she plans to distribute the dolls and make sure they’re visible in the community.

“Some gestures touch you deep into your soul. This was one of those for me,” Sheza added.

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We don’t know what the dolls are stuffed with, but we think it’s some proprietary mixture of warmth, compassion and friendship. (Facebook Photo)

Make a Choice Not to Suck

Looking for a novel way to do some good? Has it become tedious, all that paying for the coffee for the next person in line at the drive-through? Are you tired of making soup for the sick, are you bored with donating blood? Keep doing those things – they’re making a difference – but here’s a new idea to add to your roster: Say no to straws.

That’s what the Dakota Tavern in Toronto is doing, after staff there learned about the harm that plastic straws are doing to wildlife and the environment. For instance, plastic gets mistaken for food by marine animals, and it disrupts their normal feeding and reproductive patterns. (Not convinced? A cringeworthy video of a sea turtle with a straw lodged impossibly deep in her left nostril has been making the rounds… and changing minds.)

At the Dakota Tavern, a new sign on the wall reminds patrons that “Straws Suck.” Many other dining establishments around the world are also making the choice not to stock straws. Some places make biodegradable straws available to customers who request them. (Straws, after all, can be made of paper or bamboo. Then there’s my personal favourite, cookie wafer rolls. And what kid hasn’t ever sipped their milk through a piece of red licorice with the ends bitten off?)

According to the Plastic Oceans Foundation, we are throwing away over eight million tons of plastic every single year. Straws can’t be recycled, so they get dumped into the garbage, where they end up in oceans – and in sea turtles’ noses.

Straws suck. But you certainly don’t have to. When you order a drink, consider doing without a straw – or ask for a stick of licorice to go.

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The drink looks delicious. But the straw looks mean. (Photo by Zirconicusso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Ahead of the Pack

There are three ways you can tell that the men behind Saltwater Brewery are salt-of-the-earth good guys.

One: The microbrewery in Delray Beach, Florida, is named after the world’s wide, wondrous oceans. The founders are self-described as “fishermen, surfers and people who love the sea.”

Two: Part of the profits from selling the crafty products – various beers have entertaining names like Screamin’ Reels and Sea Cow – are donated to charities that benefit the oceans.

Three: The team, in collaboration with the WeBelievers ad agency, has developed the world’s first edible six-pack ring. This matters, because no matter where in the world you happen to drink your beer, your plastic six-pack ring tends to end up in the ocean. And even if the rings are designed to break down in sunlight after a few weeks so they don’t entangle aquatic animals… well, all they really do is transmute from big plastic pieces into tiny plastic pieces. Fish mistake these bits for food (totally not their fault – they have fish brains), and end up stuffing their stomachs. Not a very healthy habit. Potentially even fatal.

Saltwater Brewery is trying to help marine life, not destroy it. So its beer cans are now attached to rings made from leftover brewing grain. If these rings do find their way into the sea, they’ll break apart into biodegradable and perfectly edible chunks.

Compared to shards of plastic, this is gourmet fare.

Anyway, who says these will end up in the ocean at all? Maybe this microbrewery has unwittingly kicked off a new foodie trend. Mix in a little chipotle seasoning, and you’ve suddenly got a snack go with your beer.

Hey, why not? I’ve seen what you put in that chip bowl during game time. At least the six-pack ring is low in trans fat.

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It doesn’t even have to be chipotle. I’ll bet nacho cheese would be a hit. (Photo courtesy of Saltwater Brewery)

Community Service

Somebody in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood wants you to know that you matter.

Admittedly, he or she doesn’t know you. But he or she nevertheless cares how you feel about yourself. In fact, his or her intentions are so heartfelt that he or she –

Okay. Because English can be awkward and unwieldy, henceforth we are going to refer to this person as “Hoh” instead of him or her. For decency’s sake, we shall pronounce this a way that rhymes with “paw.”

Hoh recently invested time in printing and preparing a series of eye-catching posters. Then Hoh distributed them around the community. Each poster includes ready-to-remove compliments: “You matter.” “You are amazing.” “You make a difference.” Passersby are encouraged to take them, keep them or pass them to others who need them. A sweet idea!

The downloadable posters were originally created by Scholastic Books in New York, as part of a campaign against bullying. Nice to see it’s spread beyond the borders of the Big Apple.

In the Toronto neighbourhood where Hoh lives, these compliments have clearly been welcome. By the time my friend Lorin spotted a couple of them, one had already been completely stripped of its compliments. The other was more than half depleted.

“You matter.” Doesn’t it feel good to have a reminder?

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“You absolutely do!” Photo creds to Lorin, intrepid community reporter.

Blood Hounds

Recently, while working on a magazine story about blood donations, I unexpectedly landed on a website for dog donors. To be precise, the website is for the human owners of dog donors, since it’s kind of difficult to type out Google searches with canine paws, especially when those pesky dew claws get in the way.

The Canadian Animal Blood Bank, based in Winnipeg but with additional collection locations in Edmonton and Toronto, holds regular blood donor clinics for dogs. We don’t believe the dogs mind these acts of altruism; in fact, some of the clinics’ regulars have donated 10 or 20 times already. (Since the promise of a few food crumbs will convince a canine to do just about anything, we’re guessing these patient pooches get some pretty tasty treats after their donation.)

To be eligible to donate, dogs must weigh more than 50 pounds, be between one and eight years of age, and be of even temperament (um… obviously). The blood that’s collected is shipped all over Canada as needed.

And is it needed, you may wonder? Turns out dog transfusions aren’t all that unusual, and in the case of an accident or illness, they can save a pet’s life… like Annie, an Irish wolfhound who almost bled to death trying to give birth to her seven puppies, or Misty, whose blood couldn’t clot properly after she swallowed rat poison.

My favourite story is about Copper, a cute golden retriever-bloodhound mix who unfortunately contracted parvovirus. This is a potentially dangerous disease and dogs are normally vaccinated against it, but Copper was still a puppy, and his immunizations were not yet complete. He almost died from complications. But thanks to a blood transfusion, he recovered fully.

Why do I love this story? Because as soon as Copper was full grown, he pranced straight to the nearest blood donor clinic to give back. Literally.

Nice to know his gift was not all in vein (please forgive me).

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This is Booker. Not only did he donate blood this weekend, he further suffered the indignity of donning this Easter Bunny outfit. We’re all grateful to you, Booker. (Photo courtesy of the Canadian Animal Blood Bank.)

Sofa, So Good

Basement purging is one of my favourite ways to do good deeds for others, because it simultaneously leads to a less cluttered house for me. The Internet makes it painless to repurpose almost anything instead of dumping it as trash. Plus, as you meet the various takers for your rejected stuff, you often collect some pretty hilarious stories.

My kindhearted neighbours are preparing to downsize to a condo. I won’t share their names publicly, lest I trigger a neighbourhood protest rally outside their front door. But I will say they recently experienced that sofa-shedding process that almost anyone goes through when they’re moving, downsizing, renovating or remodeling. It’s practically a rite of passage. It centres on an old, loyal couch that has seen your household through several decades, possibly even through multiple homeowners or generations. When purchased new, the camelback lines and emerald-and-brown floral pattern made a stunning statement as a living-room showpiece. Over time, however, the cushions begin to sag even as the colour palette stops trending. At some point, the sofa, now on the shabby side, is downgraded to the basement level, where it is jumped on by small people and spilled on by beer (hopefully not both at the same time). Eventually, it’s time to haul the sofa back up the stairs and out the door.

Now, not all used sofas are ugly or uncomfortable. A great many are still structurally sound, with a neutral colour scheme as an undeniable bonus. My neighbours’ couch fell into this category.

Sofas, as a general rule, are tough to relocate to good homes, because they’re difficult to transport and potentially life-threatening on stairs. When I think about the stuff I’ve given away, many takers arrived by bike or by public transit. One guy even carried our superfluous wooden door away with him to the bus stop. When my neighbours recently made inquiries about donating their couch, they were told it would cost them two hundred bucks in handling fees. Sadly, the piece of furniture thus languished curbside for garbage pick-up.

But they didn’t totally give up. As a thoughtful touch – with the faint hope that someone with access to hearty movers would spot the couch and realize it was the perfect piece for their own home – my neighbours covered the couch with clear plastic to protect it from the elements. At least it wouldn’t be ruined while it sat outside in bad weather.

I would love to be able to tell you that within days a truck drove up with Sofas-for-the-Needy R Us stenciled on the side, loaded up my friends’ couch and carted it away. I’d like to say that the children currently sitting on this beloved couch are so comfortable and secure that they’re finally able to concentrate properly on their studies, and that every one of them will eventually be offered a full scholarship to the university of their choice… but that would be wishful thinking. Sadly, no one claimed the couch for their own, and the garbage truck eventually picked it up.

At least my neighbours tried. They had generosity in their hearts, and a practical idea in place. Maybe someone who spotted what they’d done will do the same when it’s their turn to donate furniture. And maybe, this time, it really will result in a bright future for a bright family.

You never know.

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I don’t have a photo of my neighbours’ sofa to show you, but it was a whole lot more plasticworthy than this one.

Chairman of the Beard

On this blog we’ve talked about growing moustaches for charity. This is a story about shaving off a beard for charity. A man in Clarenville, Newfoundland, who apparently felt that four decades was long enough to live with face fungus, recently made big plans to shed his full-length, bushy white beard. (Why, yes, he does in fact sell Christmas trees during the holiday season.)

Ralph Lethbridge – known to his pals as “Boonie” – wanted to leave a legacy as he prepared to embrace a baby-smooth chin, so he decided he’d do some fundraising. His charity of choice: the ALS Society of Newfoundland and Labrador. Three of Boonie’s friends have had the disease. Boonie hoped to raise $5,000 for the cause.

Reportedly, Boonie is a bit of a legend around town (hey, it’s a small town). Thus the idea got popular pretty quickly, and a few weeks ago, during a local Clarenville Caribous hockey game, the ice rink ended up doubling as a barbershop. To the cheers of spectators, a variety of helping hands – including Don Cherry, jokingly wielding a chainsaw – took turns trimming and shaving Boonie’s facial hair until it was completely gone.

Boonie must be feeling proud. Donations poured in as the story took off, and he ultimately raised over $50,000 for the non-profit organization.

But he did have to work to overcome his apprehension first. That’s according to Todd Cole, Clarenville’s director of leisure service, who helped arrange the event. “He was so nervous before it,” Cole told a reporter, “that he got up on the ridge where he goes cutting wood, and started speaking to the trees and moose. Apparently they said, ‘Grow up, Boonie, for f—’s sake!’

Cole (rather needlessly) added: “The whole family is truly salt-of-the-earth people.”

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Proudly impersonating Santa one last time. (Facebook)