University of Saskatchewan (USask) student Tristan Anderson-Woodsworth wants to become a pharmacist so that he can serve people in his community as a vital health-care team member.
During the holiday season, Anderson-Woodsworth decided to make a difference in Saskatoon by participating in the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition’s Kindness Calendar initiative, which involved collecting donations for a local community-based organization (CBO).
“It was an opportunity to recognize that with the current economic issues right now—with inflation being so high, and the cost of living—food insecurity is always an issue,” said Anderson-Woodsworth, a first-year student in the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program.
Each day during the month of November, students, faculty and staff in the college were asked to gather essential items that were listed on the calendar, such as food items, hygiene items or items for children and babies. The supplies were then collected by the college’s Experiential Learning Office and donated to the Global Gathering Place, a CBO with a mission to engage and support immigrants and refugees to integrate and thrive in Canadian society.
“It doesn’t take much to show a little kindness to others,” said Kirsten Bazylak, the college’s associate director of experiential learning. “Sometimes what we think is a small idea can actually have a huge impact on people.”
As part of the experiential-learning aspect of the PharmD curriculum, Year 1 students spend time completing service-learning hours at various CBOs. Through these experiential-learning opportunities, the students gain an appreciation for their clients’ needs and take part in valuable experiences that shape their futures as pharmacists. The College of Pharmacy and Nutrition chose to partner with the Global Gathering Place for its inaugural Kindness Calendar initiative because the Global Gathering Place is one of the Saskatoon CBOs at which the pharmacy students volunteer.
Bazylak said the Kindness Calendar idea sparked a significant level of participation among faculty, staff and students in the college—something that “has been truly amazing and heart-warming to see.” To participate, people could either purchase the items listed on the Kindness Calendar or donate money for gift cards. Anderson-Woodsworth, for example, encouraged members of his Year 1 PharmD class to donate money for a gift card, raising $395 collectively. While there was no expectation for the students to participate, he said, he wanted to give them an opportunity “to do something more for the holiday season.”
Taylor Raiche, an experiential learning coordinator in the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition, said the contribution from the Year 1 students was substantial. In total, the college received $1,200 in gift card donations, meaning that the Global Gathering Place was the recipient of nearly 50 gift cards valued at $25 each. The gift cards can now be used by the Global Gathering Place’s clients to purchase food or other much-needed items, such as a warm winter clothing.
“We really tried to focus on what the needs were going to be of folks who utilize the Global Gathering Place, so we connected with the organization back in October to hear about what would be most useful,” Raiche said.
With input from the Global Gathering Place, the college set out to collect personal hygiene items, books, stickers and colouring pages for children, warm clothes and winter accessories, and staple pantry items, such as beans, rice, lentils, canned vegetables, canned fish, pasta sauce, sugar and flour. Hundreds of items were donated by faculty, staff and students throughout the month of November, resulting in four carloads of donations being taken to the Global Gathering Place earlier this month. It was a group effort from the entire experiential learning team to organize and divide the donated items and gift cards into more than 60 personalized care packages for individuals and families, said Raiche.
Bazylak said one of the fun aspects of the Kindness Calendar was a friendly competition that was organized between the service units in the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition: Continuing Professional Development for Pharmacy Professionals and medSask, the Medication Assessment Centre, and RxFiles. Bazylak and Raiche believe the competition helped to increase the number of donations that the Experiential Learning Office received, as people in the units competed to see who could donate more.
“It’s definitely much more than we could have ever asked for,” said Bazylak.
When Emily Galey, a PharmD student and a representative of the Saskatchewan Pharmacy and Nutrition Students’ Society, read an email about the Kindness Calendar, she and two of her friends immediately wanted to get involved.
“We each contributed as many items as we could and then went shopping together for the remaining items,” she said. “Overall, the experience was very rewarding, but I think it meant even more doing it together.”
When asked why it was important to her to take part in the initiative, Galey noted that “it comes down to community.”
“As pharmacists, we play a very large role in the community and our community members’ health. For this reason, I think it’s important for pharmacists to get involved and support community members in many different ways, including initiatives such as this,” she said. “Furthermore, as health-care providers, I think it’s important for us to step up and lead by example.”
Dr. Airini (PhD), USask’s provost and vice-president academic, said it’s inspiring to see how the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition has made a difference in the community this holiday season. She noted that the third commitment in the University Plan 2025 is Inspired Communities, which asks USask to inspire the world by achieving meaningful change with and for communities.
Airini also lauded the impactful experiential-learning opportunities that are facilitated by the college.
“At USask, we believe that community-engaged learning is a vitally important and mutually beneficial experience for our students and for our community partners,” she said. “Working with and for our communities is key as we strive to be the university the world needs.”