When she was ten years old, Lylia Essaddam decided she could help support the homeless community here in Kingston. She began designing and hand-painting greeting cards on mixed-media paper, featuring her signature tiny gnomes. She sells her cards and donates 100 per cent of the proceeds to local non-profit charities supporting the homeless.
Over two years later, Lylia has expanded her not-for-profit charity, Gnome for a Home, and now offers a full line of products with her adorable gnome prints.
Beyond her creations, Essaddam has also started Gnome for a Home Pizza Friday, and this year she designed a Military Valentine's Day Gnome for cards which people can send to their military significant others.
These Military gnomes were inspired by Valentine’s for Vets, a long running program, aimed at bringing cheer to veterans in long term care homes across the country. Gnome for a Home’s Valentine’s Day cards are a perfect hand crafted valentine to deliver those messages of thanks and remembrance.
“I donated 60 Gnome for a Home Valentine’s Day printed cards to two of my teachers at my elementary school Madeleine de Roybon, who taught me to be kind and to help others, for them to share with their students,” Essaddam shared. “I asked them if their students would write nice and kind words on the cards and I would collect those 60 cards to send to Veterans Affairs Canada who will distribute the valentines to Veterans in long-term care facilities across the country by February 14.”
Essaddam’s parents both work at RMC, and say they have a tremendous respect for the Military Community. “When, two years ago, someone told us about the Valentine's for Veterans initiative, we spoke with Lylia about it, and this is how she came up with the idea, this year, to donate her printed Valentine's Cards to kids in her elementary school,” said Lobna Cherif, Essaddam’s mother.
“The result is so heartwarming,” Cherif continued. “Lylia just received a request for 60 more cards from other teachers who would like to have their students write to the Veterans. Lylia showed me some cards she just received from her two other teachers with 4th year students notes for the Vets. Elated is the word I would use to describe her now.”
“I hope more teachers will reach out to me as I will be happy to donate more cards, which will allow me to send more cards and make more Veterans happy,” Essaddam said.
Supporting the homeless with Pizza Fridays
Each week in 2021 Gnome for a Home, in partnership with Pizza Pizza at 277 Bath Road, has been providing Pizza Fridays for around 70 people in the community who suffer from food insecurity.
Gnome for a Home donates $100 a week for the pizzas, and plans to continue throughout the year. “There are 53 Fridays in 2021, which means my goal is to donate $5300,” Essaddam told Kingstonist. “I’ve raised $2300 since the beginning of 2021 (which is 43% of my goal and will allow me to offer pizza every Friday until Friday, June 11, 2021). I hope I can raise $3200 before the end of 2021.”
Essaddam says she hopes to continue this effort beyond the end of this year. “As long as there are homeless people, I hope this will never end,” she said. “When you travel on the 401, there is a huge 'Welcome to Kingston' sign with the population number. My dream is that we can write one day: ‘Welcome to Kingston: Homeless Free Town.’”
Community Friends in Motion have been distributing the donated pizzas, paired with beverages and snacks donated by others in the community.
Essaddam says everyone can help. "Sponsor a Pizza Friday ($100), make a small or big donation towards my Gnome for a Home Friday's Pizza Project (every dollar helps), or purchase one of my Gnome for a Home products," she said.
To put your support behind this project, you can purchase Gnome with a Home cards and merchandise from their online store, or simply make a donation.
For February, Gnome for a Home has unique hand painted Valentine's Day gnome cards, which are customizable. Purchasers choose how much they would like to donate for each custom card. Essaddam says some donations a are very generous. "Someone donated $100 for one custom printed 2021 Valentine's Day Gnome Card!” she said.
Other available products include sweatshirts, aprons, mugs, and face masks featuring the Valentine's Gnome.
Digital copies of gnomes are available as well. “[The purchaser will] own it and can print it on any product or use it for their own cards,” explained Essaddam. “For example, a local business (Yupi.ca) purchased the 2020 Christmas Gnome and used it for their Christmas cards (They donated $500 for one single digital gnome.)”
To put your support behind Gnome with a Home and her projects, visit her website and Facebook page for ways to get involved.
Jessica Foley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, kingstonist.com