Three simple words. Alone, they don’t mean much, but put them together and they become greater than the sum of their parts.
"Pay it forward."
The phrase, which is more of a way of life than a passing expression, subscribes to the notion of repaying one random act of kindness with another.
Our story begins with a mix up, two schools with the same name, a random act of kindness and the decision to pay it forward. Where it ends ... who knows?
But first, back to the beginning.
Last year, Elkhorn School signed up for the Indigo Adopt a School program. The premise was simple, get people to "like" Indigo’s Facebook page and receive a gift card for the school’s library.
When the program concluded, Elkhorn secured enough "likes" for a $150 gift card.
However, when librarian Tawnis McLeod went to purchase new books for the school she found the card had already been used up.
Confused, McLeod was sure she hadn’t used the card yet, so she asked the book store to trace the transaction. After some quick investigative work, the book store confirmed that another school in Toronto had used Elkhorn’s loot.
Which brings us to part two: Two schools with the same name.
Elkhorn Public School, in Toronto, had accidentally used up Elkhorn School’s gift certificate. Both schools were involved in the Indigo program and somehow the gift certificate was spent by the wrong school.
Upon learning of the mix up, the Toronto school’s librarian called McLeod and apologized profusely.
"Don’t worry about it," McLeod told her, it was an honest mistake, and Indigo and the book store made good on the initial gift certificate so we got our books.
Whew, the Toronto librarian replied. However, through the process she said their students had researched Elkhorn School and the Toronto school wanted to do something for the Manitoba school. She suggested to keep an eye out for the mail.
Days later a packaged arrived in the mail.
Peeling back one of the layers of the package revealed a card that read: "From one Elkhorn to another."
More digging by a teary-eyed McLeod revealed six $100 gift cards to be used for books for the school’s library.
"All she told me on the phone is that they had done a little penny drive," said McLeod, who still gets tears in her eyes talking about the gift. "We were so thrilled. The fact they took the time to do it is really cool. It was a neat feeling to get an unexpected gift like that and it was pretty powerful."
After phoning the Toronto school to thank them, McLeod’s own mind began to race. Knowing how the unexpected gift touched the students and staff of Elkhorn School’s hearts, they, too, wanted to return the favour.
Every Christmas, Elkhorn School hosts a "Christmas Extravaganza." Normally gifts are exchanged, but this year instead of gifts the school decided to hold a penny drive of its own.
For 10 days, children were encouraged to bring coins and dump them in a large plastic container at the school. Businesses joined in, too, offering to collect the change and donating some of their own.
Next, Elkhorn needed to find a school in need.
After hosting adventurer Jamie McDonald, who has travelled the world fundraising for children’s hospitals, in Elkhorn this winter, McLeod found another school in Medicine Hat, Alta., that also welcomed McDonald during his trek across Canada.
With a little bit of research, she found the school had been devastated when the South Saskatchewan River flooded last spring.
"We wanted to pay it forward," McLeod said. "And when we tallied it all up, it was $1,600."
McLeod purchased a book and inscribed it, packaged four $400 gift certificates with a note saying "Open me first" and sent the gift on its way.
"I didn’t want them to know anything because I wanted them to get that same feeling of joy that I got when I opened our gift," she said. "They were overwhelmed because it was out of the blue and we were thrilled because we got to reproduce that feeling that we had."
According to the Elm Street School’s blog, Mrs. Schick, the school’s librarian "immediately started to cry with joy" when she opened the gift.
At the bottom of the blog, Elm Street School thanked Elkhorn, then went one step further.
"We cannot say enough how surprised and overjoyed we are for this unexpected kindness," the blog reads. "Elkhorn School and their community have reiterated for us that we are all connected. Our students are now hard at work thinking about how we can pay it forward."
Where the story ends ... no ones knows.
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed