The Healing Sweater

I’m going to share with you a very special story that demonstrates a group of Educator’s going beyond their job description, the thoughtfulness of a child, and the lasting impact on a recipient of a gift carefully chosen.

Approximately 18 or 19 years ago now, my daughter was attending primary school in Bobcaygeon, Ontario. It’s a small community roughly 150 kilometres north-east of Toronto, Canada. One late fall day, she came home with a letter from the teachers in the school, and the letter asked parents to consider donating either new items they had around the house they didn’t want, or gently used items in excellent shape. These items were going to be all put on tables in the gymnasium, and class by class, students would get to go to the gym and for 25 cents an item, students would purchase and wrap a Christmas present for both mom and dad.

This always struck me in year’s since as such a fabulously touching idea. You see this way, neither parent would know what two gifts under the tree were; one for each of them. Every other year, I’d take my daughter out and together we’d pick out something for my wife from her, and then my wife took her out and bought something for me. Parental influence was evident both times. But in this case, it was truly entirely up to the child as to what they thought mom or dad would really want. So there was anticipation building to see what was going on in that precious little mind!

Although I’ve long forgot what the 25 cents per item was raised for, I have never forgot the idea, the generosity behind it, and the gift itself. When I opened my gift that Christmas morning so long ago now, it turned out to be a dark burgundy gable sweater. The arms were about 8 inches too long, and the overall length went to mid-thigh; clearly donated from a home where the man of the house was much bigger than I.

I loved the thing. I put it on and it was loose-fitting, really warm and light weight despite it’s size. Because it didn’t fit correctly I never wore it to work or out in public, but around the house it was comforting and great lounge wear. One day I can recall having the chills from a cold, and donning the sweater to ward off a long cold, I immediately felt snug and warm, like a big old hug. Hence, “The Healing Sweater” was born. I’d wear that sweater for years every time I was home ill, or just needed that comfort feeling people seek when they make comfort food on a cold winter’s day.

Ah but things don’t last. Eventually the sweater got stretched through use and the washing machine, holes appeared, and common sense told me it needed to go. To this day however, I’ve always got a sweat top or sweater that when lounging around on a Sunday in the winter at home, or feeling cold or ill, that I’ll put on and announce I’m wearing the healing sweater to ward off a lengthy illness.

So tying this story back to job advice, I often think about the person or group of people more likely, who thought of the idea in the first place up at Bobcaygeon Public School. Why did they do it? I mean sure the gifts were donated, and some parents donated wrapping paper, tags, bows and tape for each child to wrap their purchased gift. So it wouldn’t have cost the school anything at all to do the activity. And at 25 cents an item, I supposed they raised a few hundred dollars which may have gone toward school-related expenses of some sort. But it was never really about the fundraising.

I think looking back, it was a small school doing something to connect the children and their families to each other. No one complained about this being a Christian celebration that I know of, and the town did have at that time families from other cultures and faiths. It was a shining example of a group of teachers in this case who came up with an idea that got unwanted items out of homes and into the hands of others who would use them, built anticipation both for the children to see the reaction from their parents, and for the parents to see what their children purchased and wrapped for them. It was just such a win-win on so many levels.

And there’s an example of some people in a workplace who collectively put forth the effort to go above and beyond. The labour involved to get all those items displayed on tables in a gym, parade all the classes down, collect the money, help the child wrap all those presents and label them, then take the classes down again for other people in the family when there were still items left; that was a lot of work.

Does your workplace do anything on a social basis perhaps that gives back to the community? Some staff yesterday at my workplace exchanged gifts with a twist. Each gift had to be what you imagine they might have wanted as a child. After being unwrapped, all gifts were collected and donated to a toy drive for Christmas. No one went home with any gift, but everybody received so much more.

By Kelly Mitchell, BA

*First published at: and reposted with permission from the author.

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