Cookies for Mental Health: Toronto Tween Delivers

Sept. 21, 2020 – By SUSAN MINUK

Mia Adler has reason to smile. This summer, the 11-year-old delivered cookies to raise awareness for mental health.

Mimi (her nickname) created “Mimi For Mental Health” in preparation for her bat mitzvah on Nov. 7 this year. Her business motto: Be kind. Be empathetic. Be brave.

Mia Adler, Mimi For Mental Health

Mia’s cookie venture has raised $4,226 in support of Mental Health Empowerment Day (MHED), a venture that promotes mental health education, de-stigmatization and builds community.

“Mia’s passion for helping others proves that young people can drive change,” lauded Leanne Matlow, founder of MHED.

The cookie project launched on July 30. And with Mia’s final delivery on Erev Rosh Hashanah, her “Rosh rush” drove record-breaking sales: More than 78 dozen cookie orders.

Mimi For Mental Health cookie delivery

As the Grade 7 student at Humewood Community School explained, “I want people to be happy, especially during times like this [pandemic]. I’ve had mental health issues and I know how important it is to let someone know you care. Receiving a box of cookies can change a person’s perspective on everything. It can put a smile on someone’s face and can make them feel loved.”

To make that happen, she participated in Project Give Back, which started in 2007 to inspire young students to develop meaningful relationships with their community and become global-minded, compassionate citizens. Mia’s cookie project was a special Project Give Back initiative geared to her bat mitzvah.

Mia partnered with Sam Ginsberg, a 15-year old CHAT student who runs Sam’s Sweet Creations. Sam developed the mouthwatering cookie recipes.

“I love baking,” Sam enthused. “I love Mia’s cause and I thought it was really cool to partner with another youth.”

From the start of the pandemic, Sam has been delivering baked goods to front-line workers and shelters, donating 20 percent of his profits to charities.

“So being involved in Project Give Back was a good fit for me.”

After rigorous taste-testing, it was decided that Chocolate Chunk, Reverse Double White Chocolate Chunk, and S’Mores would be available for $36 a dozen.

Mia created a social media presence, providing an online form for people to order the treats, with 100 percent of sales supporting MHED, less costs for the cookies.

“Once we knew the numbers of the orders for the week, we would pay Sam so he can purchase his ingredients and for his labour and time,” explained Mia’s mother, Marnie Adler.

“The rest of the money was put aside into a big pot that eventually would go to MHED. Several people who received the cookie boxes reached out to let Mia know how special it was and then they paid it forward the next week, [by ordering more],” her mother said.

For the first week, Sam baked at home in a small kitchen with a single oven. “That order was 27 dozen,” he recalled. “It took about 12 hours. As the orders grew, my aunt let me use her house with double ovens.”

For the final bake, Sam found a commercial kitchen that donated space. He can now bake 34 dozen at a time.

With cookies typically in hand by midweek, Mia’s work began.

“On Thursday mornings, I would wake up and organize the cookies and put them in boxes,” she said. “I had to write names on sticky notes so I wouldn’t lose track of all the boxes and their addresses. I also wrote handwritten cards included with each box.”

Fridays were cookie delivery day. Father and daughter would leave their Toronto home at 10 a.m. for the four-hour journey that included Etobicoke, the Beaches, Richmond Hill, and Maple.

Marnie gushed with pride about her daughter’s entrepreneurial spirit.

“Mia knows how good it feels to give back and how important it is – and that’s what this was all about.”

Concurred Matlow: “Together, Mia and Sam have demonstrated that anything is possible and the future is in good hands.”

Visit www.mhed.ca to learn more about mental health resources.

JIAS Helps Yazidi Kids Rebuild Lives Through Education

Aug. 5, 2020 – By SUSAN MINUK

Precisely six years ago, the world witnessed the horrific attempted genocide of the Yazidi people in northern Iraq. It was on Aug. 3, 2014 when ISIL fighters entered the Yazidi city of Sinjar, beginning a killing spree that claimed an estimated 5,000 civilians and the widespread raping of women, including girls as young as nine. Thousands of prisoners were kidnapped and turned into slaves.

In all, ISIL’s murderous actions resulted in approximately 500,000 Yazidi refugees.

In November 2017, some 1,200 Yazidi arrived in Canada as refugees, with about 250 settling in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto. They continue to face multiple barriers to integration, including adult illiteracy and post traumatic stress disorder.

To combat those, Jewish Immigrant Aid Services of Toronto (JIAS) has launched an online school support program for Yazidi refugee children aimed at boosting basic literacy, love of learning, and self-confidence.

The pilot program is funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and runs through Aug. 13. 

“The importance of welcoming the stranger has been ingrained 36 times in the Torah,” Elise Herzig, executive director of JIAS Toronto, told the CJR. “It’s the one commandment that’s been repeated more than any other.”

For refugee students, education is a particularly healing and empowering process, Herzig said.

“Many of these individuals are illiterate both numerically and unable to read in their own language. The idea was that these children would be provided additional skills to supplement what they were learning in the school system.”

JIAS serves 14 families in the Yazidi community. There are 48 Yazidi children in the summer school support program.

JIAS supplied families with tablets but faced the challenge of how to run an online learning program for a largely illiterate population – and during a pandemic.

“How do you teach families lacking basic English language and literacy skills to use technology when you can’t sit with them in person?” asked Herzig. “What happens when you need to troubleshoot?”

It was “hours and hours” of work. First, a translator had to find out whether families were able get online. If they could, did they know how to turn on the device?

“We had to think in ways we never imagined,” Herzig went on. “We basically found out that every kid could click on the number 9. We set it up in a way that if they clicked 9, the account that we preset up for them automatically recognized the 9 and put them into the Zoom room.”

Sometimes, kids forget to sign in. JIAS has to call and remind them because they don’t know how to tell time.

The curriculum includes English as a second language, virtual field trips and an arts-based mental health program to help the kids “deal with their past experiences and everyday stress that all kids go through, including COVID,” said Herzig.

JIAS partnered with Project Abraham, a registered charity that supports the resettlement in Canada of victims of genocide, ethnic cleansing and abduction.

One program participant’s mother remarked that her son “now has courage to try to read as he sees his friends are reading in the program.” 

What can we learn from the Yazidi?

“They are strong and have incredible resilience,” said Herzig “The way they form community and the way they support each other is quite remarkable.”


Susan Minuk
Susan Minuk

Susan Minuk is both humbled and heartened by everyday stories with the power to touch or inspire her readers’ lives.