When asked to describe what participating in and potentially winning this Free Wedding Contest would mean to them, Sarah and Keith responded that:
"Keith and I have been blessed with a love that is extremely rare. We want to live each and every day paying it forward to honour our donor family, and their loved one as they have allowed us to continue our lives together. Participating in this contest has allowed us to share our story with many more people, and hopefully encouraging somebody to make a decision that they might not have made otherwise, to be an organ donor. If we win this contest, we will be able to publicly declare our love for each other in front of our friends and family in an atmosphere fitting for the occasion."
Sarah and Keith Pay-It-Forward
The challenge has been issued...and Sarah and Keith are busy planning how they will 'pay-it-forward' in their community. Check back here to watch their progress as the contest unfolds.
Keith and I have a multitude of projects planned for the next 10 days and cannot wait! Sarah has been managing two separate projects on a volunteer basis for two very incredible people. For Kayla Baker, an amazing 15 year old girl who waited 2 years to finally receive a beautiful donated lung, Sarah has been working tirelessly with Kayla's family to help manage a Facebook page of over 10,000 people, and all the while helping to raise funds for Sick Children's hospital in Toronto. The campaign is well on its way to raising $50,000 for the hospital. An organized run on Saturday, May 11th will be the culmination of this fundraising, and we are looking forward to being a part of this day.
At the same time, there is an 18 year old man waiting in Toronto General Hospital for a new heart, as his has failed him very suddenly in February. While still at hospital during Keith's recovery from his double lung transplant, Sarah met his mother, Michelle, and immediately offered to help to set up a Facebook presence for Aaron O'Neill in order to bring awareness to his plight, and encourage more people to register as organ and tissue donors. An event has been scheduled for Tuesday, May 14th to get Hamilton to "go green for Aaron" to get the entire city aware of his story and increase registrations!
We will not rest until everyone in Ontario – and ultimately in Canada- is registered as an organ and tissue donor. This saves lives.
What a busy week it has been!
As many have realized by now, our "pay it forward" tends to centre around Organ Donation awareness, and being involved in activities and events that help to promote the importance of this cause. In this way, we can feel that with every new registered donor, we are increasing the odds for people who are waiting for a life saving transplant.
The last week has been no exception. On Saturday, we spent the day in Cambridge for "Run A Lung". Keith and I did the 3K walk (45 minutes! Not bad for a guy who had a lung transplant 3 1/2 months ago!) and I was the MC for the event. Final tallies aren't in yet, but we are extremely close to our $50,000 fundraising goal for Sick Kids Hospital physiotherapy room! Can I get a woot??
Our "Go Green for Aaron" event was delayed for Hamilton until this Monday but we are geared up to tie green ribbons around every post and tree in that city. Everyone in Hamilton area, watch out...your city is going GREEN! This will create a media buzz (especially all the ribbons around city hall) and more awareness for this boy's plight and the need for donors.
We had a full day at the Toronto General Hospital on Friday, May 18th, where we met with Kayla, our young friend with a new lung! I brought her in a stack of Seventeen magazines, because after 2 months in the hospital, she needs some more distractions. A great chat with her mom, and gentle hugs with Kayla – this girl has seen bumps in the road, but is determined and grateful to her donor. We are rooting for her to be out of hospital by the end of the summer – maybe sooner!
Across the street back at TGH, we checked in on Aaron – who was doing great and brought him a special smoothie that he likes. While he waits for his heart, he has a full on video gamers dream set up but he also has broken hospital records, walking 10 laps on his floor while attached to an LVAD Heart machine. Incredible spirit.
We saw our friend Adena, whose husband James waits for new lungs – he has been on an artificial lung for over 3 months now. Adena and I became close while I was in hospital with Keith – waiting for HIS new lungs. Now I ache for her James and this is why everyone who knows me, knows that being an organ donor is the most important decision they can make. Ever.
At the end of our day, our new friend Bobbie Lynn met us in the lobby of TGH. She was visiting from Ottawa, where she campaigns tirelessly for organ donation awareness also. Bobbie Lynn has been 6 years on dialysis waiting for a new kidney. There aren't words. We had a good discussion about both our efforts, and what we can keep doing to keep sharing the word!
I'm likely out of words here, but it was such a busy week, and Keith and I are so grateful for everyone who supports our efforts, for our family, our friends, and for the strangers every day who tell us that we are making a difference.
Catch you soon, and for goodness sake – Be A Donor!
What an incredible week it has been!
The culmination of many of our efforts was today in Hamilton, when Keith and I and about 20 of our friends and acquaintances went and put green ribbons around trees, posts, and railings in honor of organ donation awareness. The media has been notified and soon everyone will know why Hamilton went green.
This past week and a half also saw Keith and I out at an event held by the Ontario Lung Association, for their project called Breathers United. We are ambassadors to effect change within the Ontario government to encourage them to have an official government position on Lung health.
Keith and I have truly enjoyed being able to go out into our neighborhood and other neighborhoods and continue to share this important message.
Over the past short while we have developed a strong sense of what our purpose is moving forward in this respect. We will not rest until every person in Ontario who is eligible is registered as an organ and tissue donor. More register donors mean more pretransplant patients receive their life-saving organs which means more lives are saved.
We want to thank the Wedding Saviors for allowing us this opportunity to share this with so many people. Well Keith is still healing, it has been a wonderful opportunity for he and I to be together spending time together doing what we love.
We wish all of the couples in this contest all the best of luck.
Sarah and Keith.
Challenge for Charity
What a wild and wonderful few days it has been! When Keith and I received this final challenge we both looked at each other with the same question... "how in the heck do you do a food drive?" Over the years we had always participated in them, happily cleaning out the pantry of cans and sending off in bags with children to school, or to other events. I (Sarah) had even spent days sorting food in downtown Toronto for the food bank, remembering huge quantities of macaroni and cheese and peanut butter needing to be sorted between boxes.
This time its different. This time, it's US that are asking all of our friends, neighbours, and our friends friends to help us out with this important challenge.
Keith and I are loving going around from place to place, meeting people who have generously donated food, have even organized their neighbourhoods to help us out. We were out to a friends neighbourhood this afternoon, and her kids were dressed up incostume, waiting on the corner of their street, waving signs, welcoming us to their neighbourhood where a group of friends waited to meet us. People are genuinely excited to see us potentially win a wedding from the Wedding Saviours – and are fascinated by the concept. Lots of questions about the "why" and the "how" are asked of us, and we love being able to tell people that this is an incredible group of people and companies who have come together with a common desire to "pay it forward" to a deserving couple. Many want to know if this is for a reality show...hmmm, IDEAS for you guys! :)
We have designated a corner of the living room for this food, and have also had some incredibly generous friends and strangers offer drop off areas throughout our city and neighbouring areas. Pictures will follow, but for now, 3 days in, we will keep you in suspense.
Remember, be a donor like no ones watching...
Reality sets in.
This week we were chatting with our local food bank and went in to visit our contact and introduce ourselves. She was kind enough to show us around the building, the area set aside for children to play, the area where the "intake" process happens, and finally, the food bank room. Shopping; for people who are in a position where they cannot comfortably go into a regular grocery store and shop, for fear of not being able to purchase what they need in order to keep healthy meals on the table.
The images speak for themselves.
When we began this process, Keith and I were excited about the challenges we would face as part of this contest. The idea of running a Food Drive was intriguing, and we were up for the challenge. We were not prepared for the strong emotions that we both felt when we went into this room and saw these shelves. At most, 15% full. It was disheartening. We vowed that whatever happens, we will continue to support the food bank as we have in the past, but armed with the visual knowledge (and personal – more to come on that) we have a renewed vigour that we will approach this particular aspect of our volunteer lives with. We hope to be able to volunteer at this centre on a regular basis, in addition to continuing to support the food bank.
While this has all been happening, our family has continued to support us in our endeavours, and while we have 5 teenagers with very busy lives, they have all found ways to help by sharing our story, and will be working with us in the next few days to ensure that this all comes together without a hitch. Luckily, I have one at home over the summer (from university) who has some spare time to help out. For everyone else, school comes first!
Some of our greatest supporters have come from our transplant community, Precious Kayla Baker (pictured here with Keith and I while she receives dialysis) and her parents have been amazing at spreading the word and encouraging people to vote for us, as well as families throughout Toronto, and even from each coast who have pitched in in every way that they can.
I will leave this blog with a paraphrase from a letter a friend of mine sent me about her experience with this particular food bank. "In the spring of 2012 I was faced with a situation that I never imagined I would be in. Newly single, trying to navigate through the family court system, and a stay at home mom of two very young children, I found myself needing to use the food bank. As a former nurse, I was well aware of the stigma that came with this. I will say that I was always welcomed with a smile, and open arms into this community and they truly helped me get back on my feet. I am now in a better place in my life, and will say that we never know what our futures hold, and we should always pay-it-forward and bless others with the resources that we have now."
Truer words have never been spoken.
WE WILL FILL THESE SHELVES.
Peace and Gratitude
Sometimes in life, things happen that really throw you for a loop.
Sometimes those things are overwhelmingly disappointing and tragic. But I truly believe that the universe balances itself out and Keith and I have seen that happen this past week in spades.
What compels an absolute stranger to volunteer their place of business to collect food for a food drive for two people she doesn't know, who don't live in her city, and for whom she has nothing to personally gain from doing this?
Why would children at a school rally to gather food because one of their friends mothers asked for it?
Why would a major corporation donate to help two people to win a wedding?
We knew the answer all along. Had experienced it all along, but until we saw the visual of all of this love, friendship, and connection coming together, and coming together not just to help Keith and I for this contest, but to help people who could not help themselves, we had not completely experienced its power.
The Wedding Saviours reaches out to people who have experienced hardship. Reaches out to people who love each other and have made the decision to publicly declare that love. The way I see it, the Wedding Saviours is a conduit for the "pay it forward" movement that will EXPONENTIALLY grow as more and more couples are touched by the positivity that arises from these challenges.
Someone said to me today "you wouldn't be doing all this if there wasn't something in it for you" and it certainly caused me to pause. What was the impetus of us doing this food drive? Were we only doing this for the contest? It was certainly why we started, but as my last blog showed, the contest ceased to be the reason and the compelling images of empty shelves, and the thought of people in need became the reason.
We look forward to seeing the culmination of ours and the two other couples food drives.
I'm sure it will be a powerful testament to how generous the spirit of our friends, families and neighbours and even strangers, really is.
Thank you so much for this opportunity,
Keith and Sarah