CORNER BROOK — Marissa Mckenzie turned 11 on Wednesday and her entire school got involved in the celebration.
The quiet and often shy Grade 5 student at Sacred Heart Elementary used her special day to help other children who aren't as lucky as she considers herself to be.
The reason for her luck is quite simple: "Because I have a family that loves me."
Marissa and her mom, Paulette, have been running a footwear drive, New Kicks for Kenya, at the school all this month to collect gently used or new sneakers, Crocs or similar type shoes and sandals that will be donated to children in Kenya, Africa.
Paulette said the idea came about after she and Marissa watched a television show about a little girl who was turning seven, but didn't know what to do for her birthday. The girl's mother talked to her about how fortunate she was and how there were so many kids in the world that needed shoes. The mother knew of an orphange in Guatemala and the family decided to have a party, but instead of gifts, the girl asked her friends to bring along a pair of shoes to donate to the orphanage.
"That really hit home for us," said Paulette.
She and her husband Paul adopted Marissa in Nunavut when she was three days old. She also has a niece who was adopted from China.
Marissa's 10th birthday had featured a big bash and Paulette said the plan for the next few year was to do something more low key.
But that television show changed things.
"Marissa is very aware of her background and how fortunate she has been," said Paulette. "And we talked about how neat of an idea it would be to do the same thing."
Paulette mentioned the idea to a co-worker, Elaine O'Keefe. It turns out O'Keefe's sister and brother-in-law, Wanda and Pastor Clarence Buckle, had recently returned to their home in St. John's from doing relief work through the Pentecostal Church in Kenya. And Wanda had told her sister how she was now collecting shoes to send to children in Kenya.
A connection was made and the Buckles told the McKenzies that if they had some shoes to donate and could send them to St. John's, then they would take care of getting them to Kenya. After that the planning really started and at first, Paulette thought of doing something small, but then decided it would be nice to involve Marissa's school.
She contacted principal Frank Humber who was more than willing to involve the school. Boxes were placed in every classroom in the kindergarten to Grade 6 school and on Wednesday those boxes were brought to the gymnasium and dumped into one big pile.
Marissa hoped to get at least 100 pairs of footwear when all the boxes were dumped, but both she and mom were more than pleased with the 278 pairs that were donated.
"I think it was really awesome because it was really helpful to the kids in other countries."
Paulette is proud of her little girl's generosity.
"The older she's getting, the more she's understanding empathy and how to reach out," said Paulette.
Paulette wanted to celebrate not only Marissa's birthday Wednesday, but also the efforts of all the students at the school.
Anyone interested in donating to New Kicks for Kenya can email Paulette at firstname.lastname@example.org.