Grace and her sister Madelyn, Grade 8 student at BVG display the school supplies collected from various sources.
Inspiration can come from anywhere at any time.
When it makes a meaningful, lasting difference, it can become a gift that keeps giving.
Just ask the Cunha family.
“Our journey started with one single, broken pencil,” says Melissa DeCaria Cunha, mother of two Bayview Glen students.
DeCaria Cunha is a Special Education and ESL teacher for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, working in what she describes as, “a very underprivileged and underserviced area of Toronto.”
When a student asked her for an eraser “because his broken pencil didn’t have one,” DeCaria Cunha was moved to write a new story.
That very night in September of 2020, DeCaria Cunha filled up “an entire pencil case full of gently used school supplies — ones that had been shoved in various drawers around our home,” she says. “That single broken pencil set off a lightbulb – if I could fill an entire pencil case with gently used school supplies, how many other households could do the same?”
That act of kindness grew and so did her vision to inspire greater giving within her own home and beyond.
“I was shocked because I thought that having something as simple as an eraser was something every student would have,” says Madelyn Cunha, Melissa’s eldest child and a Grade 8 student at BVG. “When I found out that not every student has one, it showed just how privileged we are to never have to think of these things.”
The branches of their giving tree grew quickly after Melissa started an Instagram account and outreached to her family and friends for school supply donations.
“Word spread to people I didn’t even know wanting to help,” says DeCaria Cunha. “Small businesses donated office supplies. I drove anywhere in Toronto to do a pickup!”
The response to that original ask gave birth to Mosaic School Supplies.
And the need has only grown since that student-teacher encounter more than two years ago.
“Many Toronto communities have been greatly affected by the pandemic,” says DeCaria Cunha. “Some families barely have enough to feed their children. On average, per student, basic school supplies (including a geometry set, scientific calculator, and binder) can cost each student $64. Having daily access to school supplies is one less purchase they have to make,” she says.
Inspired by her mother’s efforts, Grace Cunha, a Grade 4 student, helped her family’s giving tree sprout new branches at Bayview Glen.
“I am often surprised by the retention of knowledge and the lessons my girls learn from their weekly BVG assemblies,” says DeCaria Cunha. “It was here where Grace was inspired to do a Mosaic School Supplies drive at BVG. She wrote a proposal to Mr. [Jesse] Denison, who immediately said yes, and had Madelyn and Grace showcase Mosaic at assembly,” she says.
“This is an initiative by students for students which I always like,” says Mr. Denison, Head of the Lower School. “It aligned nicely with the end-of-the-year purge when students clean their desks.”
During a three-day campaign at the end of June 2022, DeCaria Cunha says BVG “students were given the opportunity to donate their supplies. Sorting supplies is a tedious process, yet every classroom teacher did the hard work for us! When the drive was complete, BVG donated almost an entire trunk full!”
Fiona Fenili, Head of the Upper School says, “what struck me most was the demonstration of empathy in action. Seeing an inequity and acting on it, then passing this level of personal accountability on to her two young daughters truly reflects the values of BVG.”
The giving continues and so does the impact.
“This past June, a family with five children was given backpacks full of school supplies, which came directly from the BVG collection,” says DeCaria Cunha. “Historically, the family puts aside money monthly to purchase supplies every August. Because of our giving, Mom was able to redirect the funds and take a three-day camping trip with her family — something she has not done since arriving in Canada 12 years ago,” she says.
DeCaria Cunha says she regularly takes her daughters to work to witness the impact of their efforts and that of the Bayview Glen community.
“I see how truly happy my mother gets when she tells us stories of those students who she has donated to and how they are not afraid to ask any more for the supplies they need,” says Madelyn Cunha. “I knew it was personally important to my mom, so I jumped on board and started helping out and haven’t stopped since!”
Deeply inspired by the experience, Madelyn decided to expand her own giving roots this year at BVG, signing up as the co-head of community outreach for the Prep School student council.
“I have been able to have the satisfaction and happiness of seeing someone get excited over something as simple as a pencil,” she says. Knowing that you’ve helped them even if it was a small amount.”