When Oluwaseun Odeyemi’s neighbour began clearing the snow in front of her and her husband’s house, the random act helped build for them a sense of belonging.
It’s not that the Nigerian-born Winnipeggers weren’t capable of shoveling themselves. But the kindness behind the deed was what shone through for them, like the pavement.
“That goes a long way. And it shows us that there are people around the world even in your neighbourhood that can show kindness and it would go a long way to actually make you feel that you belong in that community,” she said.
Odeyemi and her husband moved to Winnipeg in 2016. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy to adjust to the winters from the tropical Nigerian climate they were used to.
“Myself and my husband, we’re not very handy, to be honest. We don’t like to shovel snow. There’s days we come out where there’s a blizzard and we come out and … I don’t know how we shovel the snow. And we come out to our driveway and it’s already done for us,” she said, laughing.
At first, they thought it was the city or government doing it, she said, but it kept happening until one day they saw their neighbour Mark Hutcheson in their driveway with his snowblower.
“I believe that it’s something that I should do just to help people out. [My neighbour] here, he has a shovel, I have a snowblower, and for the few minutes out of my day to help someone it’s pretty easy to do,” he said.
Odeyemi calls him and his wife “God-sent angels.”
“It’s built a relationship over the past years. We don’t see them as neighbours anymore, we see them as family, friends …” she said.
Especially during the pandemic, she says they’ve appreciated having people to talk football or life with, or share a meal.
“It just basically means there’s someone there for you. That’s what it means to us.”
It’s that feeling that sparked Lisa Webinger’s idea to send random Valentine’s Day cards to strangers who ask for one.
She created an email account and put the call out on Twitter for people to write in if they’d like a card for themselves or someone else.
20 days until Valentine’s Day, if you’d like to receive a little snail mail, reminisce of the time in your life when you made milk carton mailboxes decorated with hearts, send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name & address.<br><br>Cut off is February 4th <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/CommunityCheer?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#CommunityCheer</a> <a href=”https://t.co/fhfwXbjCUP”>pic.twitter.com/fhfwXbjCUP</a>
“It’s all anonymous, people aren’t expecting it … it’s just going to show up in their mailbox and they’re not going to know who it’s from. So they’re just going to know that somewhere out there someone was thinking of them and sent them a little note in the mail,” she said.
She said each card has a “hilarious” animal pun on it, like “you’re otter this world” or “you’re possum.” She has enough to send out 64 cards, but if she gets more requests, she’ll ask for help to keep going. She’s done this in the past and said it was well-received, especially by kids. Most people ask for a card for someone else, she said.
“People are tired, they’re exhausted, they’re frustrated, they’re feeling isolated, they’re feeling alone and I thought this would be a really fun way to connect people even if it’s just for a quick moment.”
Students at École Viscount Alexander are gearing up, getting out and giving back to their communities this winter too.
The school originally started the outdoor snow shovelling program to get cooped up kids outside more safely for physical education class in COVID times.
The students go out, pick a street, shovel the snow and leave cards asking for those who really need the help to reach out. Now, it’s those houses they return to, something Grade 8 teacher Denise Dunbar said has totally shifted their attitude about the outdoors.
“Normally when they have to go outside you kind of hear them [They] groan and [go], ‘Outside again?’ But once we told them what we were doing they were so on board and they came just fully ready to shovel away,” she said.
“They’ve been really willing to go out there even on the coldest days, so it’s been nice to see their enthusiasm for helping out.”
“So many people have been really happy, they open up their doors and they smile at us and it’s really nice to know that we’re actually helping people out,” said Aubree Harrocks, 13.
As her class was shoveling one house, the owner came outside to give her and her classmates hot chocolate — an act of appreciation Odeyemi understands too.
“When there’s a human need, that’s an opportunity to show kindness. And no matter how small of a kindness you show, it goes a long way because you never know how you’re actually helping that person out. Just show kindness.”