‘Their safe zone’: Special shopping spree helps immunocompromised kids, families

Families with immunocompromised or seriously ill children got to have a private shopping spree before Toys ‘R’ Us opened Sunday morning.

Shopping for gifts before the holidays can be a stressful experience, so the toy retailer and the Starlight Children’s Foundation teamed up to provide the annual experience for families.

Melody Willier’s two daughters, Addelyn and Claire, have a rare chromosome disorder. The pair are non-verbal, and Addelyn, 13, uses an iPad to communicate.

The Willier’s avoid busy stores and crowded places since they are full of overwhelming stimulants and stressors.

“We would go really early in the morning and get things done,” Melody said. “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.”

“It definitely gives her the chance to cruise around, just be her,” she added. “She gets to be Addelyn in a non-busy environment with families that understand it’s OK and it’s stress-free.”

This year, 15 families participated in the event at the south Edmonton Toys ‘R’ Us store.

The private event offers kids a chance to meet with Santa and make new friends with other kids like them. For Melody, those experiences are incredible, on top of Addelyn getting the chance to be independent.

“It’s very heartwarming,” Melody said. “It’s all about creating community at the same time. We love to meet new families… meet other kids.

“This is their safe zone as well and it’s creating an opportunity to build friendships.”

Greg Plant, a Starlight Foundation volunteer, said its priceless seeing families get a chance to experience the magic of the holiday season.

“There’s no judgment,” Plant said. “It’s a very free and open time.”

“It’s something special,” he added. “It’s a small thing to help you feel a little more normal in a world that doesn’t necessarily treat kids that aren’t typical the same way.”

A rewarding part of volunteering, Plant described, is getting to see kids who are still stressed out and then gradually become more comfortable as the event proceeds.

“By the time they leave the event, that stress and anxiety is gone, and they’re much happier kids,” he said. “The smiles you get to see, it’s great and amazing.”

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