A partnership that works!

Left-right, local Always Find a Reason to Smile organizer Casey Szmata, pictured with Lyla Helle and Paddy Larsen of Stonebrook in Grimshaw. The cookies were given to staff and residents of the facility.

Emily Plihal
Local Journalism
Initiative Reporter

Sometimes the world seems hopeless, and people struggle to find a reason to smile.

Local woman Casey Szmata has teamed up with Peace River Tim Hortons to host an annual campaign to help raise funds to spread a little happiness and to promote mental health.

The Always Find a Reason to Smile/Tim Hortons Peace River Smile Cookie Campaign was created out of the recognition that some folks need extra help combating sadness, depression, and the everyday doldrums that life can give.

“Gord and Barb Drummond (Tim Hortons owners) had heard of my work for suicide prevention and awareness,” says Szmata.

“They approached me to ask if our organization would be interested in partnering with them. That was five years ago, and we have grown every year,” she adds.

The annual Smile Cookie Campaign is a cross-Canada Tim Hortons initiative, set to help local non-profit organizations help fundraise desperately needed funds. In Peace River, the annual campaign has helped raise money for suicide awareness and mental health concerns with the Always Find a Reason to Smile group.

“Each individual Tim Hortons store chooses the charity that will be the recipient of the funding,” Szmata says.

“The funds go to materials and events to promote suicide awareness and prevention. It pays for books for our bereavement groups, awareness days at local schools all over the Peace Country, and information for the public,” she adds.

Szmata and her team worked hard to beat their 2022 totals, hoping to raise extra funds to help people in the region that require it. In 2022, the team was able to raise approximately $40,000 in smile cookie sales.

“Suicide has become an endemic in our area, and all across Alberta,” explains Szmata.

“We strive to support all who are dealing with their mental health, assist those with suicidal thoughts to get appropriate assistance, and provide a safe, open place to have conversations.”

The Always Find a Reason to Smile team worked tirelessly right until the deadline on May 7, impressively managing to sell over $41,000 worth of smile cookies. The campaign rallies people together who have lost their loved ones to suicide, all aiming to raise enough funds to acquire adequate assistance for people who are struggling in their personal lives.

Szmata says they do not do many fundraising activities, so the cookie campaign allows them to seek volunteers to assist them. She says the campaign allows for open and clear communication to help promote awareness about suicide and mental health concerns. Every dollar raised from cookie sales across Canada goes to the local branch’s recipient organization.

“I’m very grateful that our organization has been able to spearhead this fundraiser for the past five years,” Szmata says.

“We have become family with the owners and all of the workers at the store. We are all focused on fighting suicide. To see the Peace Region come together every year to support our important cause, is truly heartwarming and we are forever grateful.”

Smile Cookies are the main highlight of the annual Tim Hortons campaign. The campaign allows parties to spread a little sunshine and happiness to people who need a little bright light in their lives. Money from the Peace River campaign goes to the Always Find a Reason group, who help provide assistance to people who are considering suicide or battling mental health issues.

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