TORONTO -- Two sisters in Markham, Ont. have spent the last several months of the COVID-19 pandemic offering support to seniors.

“We recognized that the pandemic has affected everyone’s lives, disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations,” Athena Zhong told CTV News Toronto. “We decided that we wanted to be able to do our part and make a contribution in our community.”

Together with her younger sister Briana Zhong, Athena Zhong co-founded ‘Gifts that Smile’ – an initiative focused on getting packages of hygiene care products to those living and working in seniors residences.

“In these packages we have personal protective equipment, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste, pads, denture brush sets,” Athena Zhong explained. “These are really important items that everyone should have access to.”

“We realized that there’s not a lot of deliveries of these very essential items,” Briana Zhong added. “We wanted to make sure that people have access without going out and buying them, because these are vulnerable populations.”

Gifts that Smile

Since June, the third-year Western University student and Grade 10 high school student have assembled more than 350 care packages. The packages have then been delivered to places like CAMH, the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Chartwell Seniors Residences and the Social Services Network.

“We’re giving these items to these people who may be feeling lonely and anxious through these stressful times, and these packages are really a source of hope,” Athena Zhong said.

‘Gifts that Smile’ was made possible with the Government of Canada’s #RisingYouthGrant that the Zhong sisters applied for.

“We are so lucky to have received the 1,500 dollar sponsorship,” Briana Zhong said. “After our grant, we decided to look for all sorts of sponsorships and we were very lucky to receive generous support.”

“We are very thankful that people see this as a positive thing during this troublesome time.”

Gifts that Smile

The ‘Gifts that Smile’ project will be completed at the end of this month, but the Zhong sisters are hoping to keep the initiative going with the help of their sponsors. They’re also encouraging other young people to get involved in helping others during COVID-19.

“Young leaders out there, if you’re able to, please support the community around you,” Athena Zhong said. “It’s really showing our city that we are here for each other, no matter what.”

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