On the lawn of a Westmount home during a sunny Thursday morning sat six-year-old Charlie Manning, waiting patiently next to a table covered in parcels and birthday cards.
One might have thought there were dozens of people waiting to jump out and surprise Charlie, judging from the large number of presents and cards, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Charlie celebrated her sixth birthday at home with grandparents, Ray and Tammy Manning, who are raising her.
Since pre-school, the Westmount elementary student has had a birthday bash on the last days of school in June with her friends, but the pandemic cancelled that this year. Her June party in Kamloops is usually followed by a trip to Idaho in July to visit her aunt Becky and cousins, who reciprocate the visit for Charlie’s birthday in August.
But that, too was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Thanks to the kindness of strangers, however, Charlie was able to have a unique celebration at a time when it looked like she may not be able to have one at all.
Her aunt reached out to some Facebook groups that have people send cards to children and asked people to simply wish her niece a happy birthday.
The response was immense.
Before the Mannings knew it, an avalanche of cards and parcels began arriving at their doorstep from people around the world who had never met Charlie.
In total, 173 cards and about 15 packages were delivered from places like Arizona, Australia, Belgium, Calgary, Comox, California, New York, Mississauga, Ireland and England.
One woman from Montreal even reached out to Sweet Spot Cupcakes in Kamloops and ordered a dozen of the treats to be delivered on Charlie’s birthday — Aug. 13.
Sweet Spot Cupcakes owner Paige Knapp dropped off the treats on Thursday morning, along with a present from her and the staff. She is also making a birthday cake this weekend for the soon-to-be first grader.
Knapp said when she realized what was being done for Charlie, she wanted to contribute.
“I’m glad I was able to make her day a little bit brighter,” Knapp said.
An excited Charlie was quick to bite into one of her dozen cupcakes and she made short work of her gifts — a pile of postage, toys and trinkets littered the grass around her in about an hour.
Confetti-laden cards and anything with unicorns or from Disney’s Frozen brought an elated gasp from the six-year-old.
“I wanted this for days,” she said of one gift.
“Oh, my gosh, look at this,” she said of another.
All but one seemed to draw her praise — a tube of coffee whitener.
“I think that’s for you,” she told grandfather Ray.
Ray said it was difficult to explain to his granddaughter why she couldn’t have a party this year and was concerned it would be a sad occasion trying to navigate a birthday amidst COVID-19.
But, he said, the generous outpouring of gifts has had Charlie “bouncing off the walls” and it’s been a humbling experience for himself.
“These people don’t know us from a hole in the ground, but it really gives you a sense that in times like this, there’s still good people out there,” he said. “People do care. I mean, here’s a little girl that is being raised by her grandparents, so we don’t have kids her age in our circle of friends, and they’re making sure she has a birthday she’ll always remember.”
Charlie’s grandmother, Tammy, said she gets teary-eyed thinking of how a random group of people and her daughter stepped up to give Charlie this celebration.
“She’s a very outgoing child, so it’s hard for her and it’s hard when you’re raised by older people,” Tammy said. “This will be a birthday she’ll never forget.”