Make-a-Wish Canada sends customized 'trees of joy' to the homes of wish kids during COVID-19 pandemic
TORONTO -- In 2018, Maddie received an early Christmas present from Make-a-Wish Canada: her very own customized tree at the organization’s annual ‘Trees of Joy’ event.
“My favourite colour’s pink, so they put pink ornaments on it,” she tells CTV News Toronto.
It was s special moment for the young girl, who had been coping through some difficult years.
“Maddie was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at birth, and at the age of four we found out that she had Leukemia,” explains Keri-Lyn, Maddie’s mother. “We had the opportunity to kind of come up with a wish.”
In 2019, Maddie and her family travelled to Disneyland. It was such an enriching experience for the family that they decided to pay it forward. That November, Maddie went from being a tree recipient to being a tree donor.
“We got to meet an incredible family, Jersey and her amazing siblings,” Keri-Lyn says.
In more ordinary times, ‘Trees of Joy’ takes place at the Royal York Hotel, with sponsors donating to decorate a tree for one of the organization’s ‘wish kids.’
“Last year we had 33 trees, and 33 kids and families ,” says Shaun Usmar, ‘Trees of Joy’ organizer. “You can just imagine the energy, the joy, the enthusiasm and just that infectious magic that happens in a venue like that.”
“It’s so much fun,” adds Keri-Lyn. “The room is filled with so much positive energy, despite what the hardship is that these kids have to go through day in and day out.”
This year, the pandemic not only changed the event, but has resulted in hundreds of kids having to put their own wishes on hold.
“There were 1600 wishes granted last year,” Usmar explains. “70 per cent of those involved air travel, and you know you can’t take kids who are dealing with critical illness and put them on a plane.”
While trips have been postponed, Make-a-Wish Canada saw an opportunity to reimagine ‘Trees of Joy.’ They made the event COVID-safe, with a small team assembling the trees themselves and then delivering to wish kids’ doors.
“The trees will get shipped to the kids’ house with the gifts that go with them,” Usmar tells CTV News Toronto. “They’ll have their own sort of more intimate tree lighting ceremony, and for us we’re just so happy.”
“These kids really need something to look forward to at a time like this,” he adds.
Maddie’s family hopes the trees bring joy to the families of other Wish Kids over the holidays.
“Although they can’t go on their trip right now, their tree gets to be kind of a symbol in their homes of what’s to come,” says Keri-Lyn.
For Maddie, getting the opportunity to raise awareness about ‘Trees of Joy’ and make spirits bright for other kids like her, is special.
“Especially when you’re going through treatment,” she says. “Mom thought this would be a really big opportunity to make somebody else happy.”