More than a dozen Starlight Children’s Foundation Canada families came out to Toys R Us in south Edmonton Sunday morning to take part in a private shopping session.
This was one of 11 stores across the country that opened its doors early for the families to shop in a sensory-friendly environment.
“Having an event like this is really special where she can just be and shop and not have to worry about what’s going on around her,” mom Melody Willier said.
Willier’s 13-year-old daughter, Addelyn, has a rare chromosome disorder. She is non-verbal and communicates with an app on her ipad but just like any other kid, she likes to play, run, laugh — and shop.
“She understands everything that we say to her, (she) just can’t get it back out,” Willier explained.
“She has sensory issues, so on a Saturday or Sunday we would absolutely avoid busy places, especially during Christmastime,”
This experience, however, is different.
“She gets to be Addelyn in a non-busy environment, with families that understand and it’s okay and it’s stress free,” Willier said.
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The Williers are one of 15 families with Starlight Canada to get this quieter shopping experience.
“Give them the time to go to a store by themselves, unencumbered by people maybe looking,” Starlight Canada volunteer Greg Plante said.
For 30 years, Starlight Canada has been helping kids cops with serious illnesses through its programs — recognizing the challenges families can face.
“It’s something special. Not every kid gets to come to Toys R Us on a Sunday morning, two hours before they open and run around and just be themselves with other kids.”
Each Starlight kid and their siblings got a Toys R Us gift card to spend in-store and a chance to hang out with Santa and his elves.
“It’s a small thing to help you feel a little more normal,” Plante said.
“By having families here that understand and being able to hang out together and support each other — there’s no judgment.”
Starlight Canada said the program will reach 638 families across the country.
“By the time they leave the event, that stress and anxiety is gone and they’re much happier kids,” Plante said.
Besides making memories as a family, for the Williers, it’s all about community.
“We love to meet new families run into new families meet other kids, talk to other kids — this is their safe zone as well,” Willier said.
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