As harried shoppers made their way through the pre-Christmas chaos at the Maxi grocery store in Verdun on Sunday, some were treated to a welcome surprise: a gift card to help offset the cost of their groceries, delivered by five-year-old Kyle Mercx and his two-year-old brother, Lucas.
The gift cards are just one of several acts of kindness that the boys and their parents, Hans Mercx and Kristy Westlake, have performed over the past month as a way of teaching Kyle and Lucas the true meaning of Christmas.
“We wanted to bring a little more meaning to the holidays and show them that Christmas is about more than just presents, Santa and commercialism,” Westlake said.
In addition to the grocery cards, the family has donated stuffed animals to children in Haiti, delivered supplies to two animal shelters, and baked cookies for the officers at their local police station.
The previous Sunday, the family handed out candy canes festooned with Christmas quotes from Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas in the parking lot of the Montreal Children’s Hospital. The location was especially personal to the family, since Lucas suffers from mysterious fevers that bring the family to the hospital on a regular basis.
“Seeing Kyle and Lucas hand a candy cane to a sick kid and put a smile on their face was the most special moment of this whole thing for me,” Mercx said. “We know what it’s like to leave the hospital scared and worried. We’ve been there.”
This is the first year Mercx and Westlake have tried this project, and they say they will never go back to the old Christmas, with months of shopping, stress and thousands of dollars spent on useless gifts.
“It was the wrong kind of free-for-all,” Westlake said.
The couple began making changes to their Christmas tradition last year, when they cut out a lot of the commercialism by switching to a Secret Santa format for exchanging gifts. Still, they yearned to do more.
“It didn’t sit right for me that we were so fortunate, and not doing enough for those who are less lucky than we are,” Westlake said.
They have used the money they would normally have spent on Christmas gifts to fund their acts of kindness, which were designed around their sons’ young ages and short attention spans. The result is the best holiday the family has ever had.
“This year we’ve looked forward to Christmas in a way we haven’t for a long time,” Westlake said.
She is gratified by the fact that Kyle, in particular, seems to have understood the message of the season.
“He’s always asking what we’re doing next, and saying that he wants to do more to help people,” she said. A schoolteacher by profession, she believes that it is never too early to teach children the values they need to become good citizens.
“Even though my kids are young, I believe that doing this will leave traces in their memories and a foundation that they will build upon as they get older,” she said.
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