A “lil” Newmarket family is sparking big change in their community.
Sisters Stella, 11, Portia, 9, and Violet, 7, are the brains behind the Lil Big Kid Squad, a volunteer organization that musters “kids and their grownups” to help those in need.
With a core group of 20 local children on the organization’s planning committee, and hundreds of volunteers from places as far away as England and San Francisco, the Lil Big Kid Squad, founded just this past January, is off to a great start.
“We wanted to find a way to raise people’s spirits,” said Stella. “Especially during COVID, because everyone was feeling a bit down.”
Tackling a new volunteer project each month, the Lil Big Kid Squad has so far completed the Jars of Joy challenge, which saw the volunteers deliver more than 400 jars of kind messages to friends and neighbours, and Mail-a-Hug, which delivered 340 handmade “hug” crafts to local retirement homes and health-care workers.
Their first project, Elf Squad, completed before the official founding of the Lil Big Kid Squad, saw 185 local children band together to create, craft and send more than 900 Christmas cards to seniors in long-term care facilities.
When choosing which project to pursue next, the children target different areas of the community, hoping to give back to those in need.
“Our friends Emily and Sophia gave us the idea to do the food drive,” said Violet. “All us kids came together and decided it was a good idea.”
The Lil Big Kid Squad’s latest project, March’s Food 4 Families, saw 278 bags of food and $1,260 donated to the Newmarket Food Pantry. With a 30 per cent increase in food bank usage since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the best way for the kids, their parents, and other donors to give back to their community.
Bulk Barn Newmarket donated 200 paper bags, which were decorated with uplifting pictures and games by the Lil Big Kid Squad.
Jason Ofield, Bulk Barn’s president and CEO, made a personal visit to the Gorgonio household to donate 100 $25 gift cards.
“It’s all about giving the kids the power to make a difference and to help out,” said Vanessa Gorgonio, mother of Stella, Portia and Violet.
Helping her daughters with the “adult” parts of volunteer work, Gorgonio is the self-proclaimed Lil Big Kid Squad president “until the VPs can brush their teeth without being told.”
Marco Gorgonio, the girls’ father, acts as the organization’s CFO and “No. 1 fan.”
“All of the ideas come from kids,” said Gorgonio. “They meet every week, and they talk about what their next project is going to be, how to put it into works, and how to make it a success.”
Next up on the Lil Big Kid Squad’s plate is Earth Squad, an environmental project that will see the children pick up garbage Amazing Race-style across local neighbourhoods and schoolyards. They hope to target animals and hospitals for future campaigns.
“Our community has really come together to support us,” said Gorgonio. “We’re blown away by their generosity, and how willing they are to give so much.”