Townsend Linder learned a lesson — one that will likely stick with the eight-year-old Edmonton, Alta., boy for years to come.
After playing with friends in a park, he forgot his new sweater. It was a splurge birthday gift from his aunt and uncle who live in Fort McMurray.
Linder went back to get it. It was gone.
“I felt sad and kind of angry,” he said.
His parents decided this was a vital teaching moment. He would have to buy a new sweater from the same Fort McMurray store with his own money.
The events that followed taught the young boy an even more valuable lesson.
The owner of Project Clothing in Fort McMurray, where the sweater was purchased, tracked down another hoodie for Townsend, but Mya Khan, a new mother herself didn’t want the boy to shell out a dime. With so many COVID-19 health restrictions keeping children cooped up inside, Khan was just happy to hear he was outside playing.
“My inner mom is like, ‘No, I can’t take his money,'” said Khan.
Her generosity wasn’t lost on Linder.
“Mya used her kind heart and bought me a new one,” said Linder, who rarely takes off that sweater now.
What Linder did next tugged on the heart strings of Khan. He decided to pay it forward and donate his money to his school library.
That sparked a new project for Project Clothing and the response from the community went above and beyond expectations.
Khan posted a picture of Linder’s handwritten note on the store’s social media pages and launched “Townsend’s Book Drive.”
It just a few days, strangers had donated $1,000 to buy books for the Edmonton elementary school.
“I think mentally and emotionally and everything, we’ve all had enough now,” said Khan of the past five years in Fort McMurray. “You know what? Now it’s time to see some good.”
“Kindness breeds kindness.”
It seems remarkable for a community that has been through so much struggle and heartbreak.
The downturn in oil prices hit the resource-rich area hard.
Then, on May 3, 2016, a massive wildfire ripped through the area and forced 88,000 people to flee their homes.
Project Clothing was shut down for about six months.
Last spring, in April 2020, massive flooding once again forced people out of their homes and businesses.
The flood water devastated downtown Fort McMurray and destroyed everything inside Project Clothing. Kahn said about six feet of water was in the store.
Last month, as COVID cases climbed, a local state of emergency was declared in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. It’s been a tough 14 months for businesses trying to survive while navigating the provincial health restrictions.
Still, despite the hardships, the generosity from families didn’t disappear.
“I think as Fort McMurrians, we have a soft spot for Edmonton as well,” said Khan, “because you opened up your homes during the fire. You opened up your homes during the flood.
“So much kindness has been shown to us.”
That kindness, said Khan, is now in the DNA of people living in Fort McMurray.
On Wednesday, May 26, 2021, Linder handed over $1,200 to his school to buy new books.
Westglen School principal Cory MacTaggart said the gesture and donation goes far beyond the library and students.
“We always purchase books within our community, so we will definitely be contacting Audrey’s Books and purchasing about $1,200 worth of books for our school library.”
“It says a lot about Townsend’s character,” he added. “We are very proud of him for showing such great character in this and paying it forward.”
MacTaggart said he is also impressed a business outside of Edmonton would rally its customers to donate to the library collection for “all of the students to enjoy.”
“We can’t control this,” said Khan, of the current COVID-19 situation.
“But let’s put energy to what we can control, which is maybe make someone’s day a little better.”
For Linder, only in Grade 2, it may have sparked a sense of lifelong giving.
“I feel very happy and very generous.”