Kindness Matters volunteers spread cheer as they hand out wellness packs. Photo courtesy of Kindness Matters.

Once a year for the last three years, Suzana Rymak has hit the streets of Calgary with a group of volunteers to pass out what she has dubbed as “wellness packs.”

The packs, 200 of which were given out this year alone, contain a Tim Hortons gift card, a bookmark, and information on mental health resources in Calgary, including information on Distress Centre Calgary, 211, and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Suzana thought of the project in October of 2012, when her brother Ryan committed suicide.

“Around that time I’d gotten a small amount of money from my brother’s estate,” Suzana says. “It wasn’t anything life-changing but I thought that it was something that I should use towards a better cause than just my own.”

From that the “Kindness Matters” project was born. Since its inception 550 wellness packs have been handed out to Calgarians. Suzana says she draws her inspiration from her brother, who she calls a “promoter of kindness.”

“He spent one of his mental health breaks from work volunteering for Habitat for Humanity,” Suzana says. “I don’t think he was perfect or any of us are but he made those kinds of efforts in life and that was one of them.”

Suzana says that among honouring her brother’s memory and kind spirit, the project also aims to encourage discussion around mental health and the resources available.

“Sometimes accessing a resource, or to even be aware of it, you need that reminder,” she says and notes that several discussions were generated by her and her volunteers handing out the wellness packs.

One woman told Suzana that her niece had recently died and she had been having a hard time both grieving the loss and supporting her sister in her grief. She had not been aware of 211 or Distress Centre and was happy to learn these services are available.

Another woman told a volunteer she didn’t feel she had anyone to talk to, and thanked the volunteer for informing her of Distress Centre’s services.

Suzana says another goal is to simply make people smile.

“Even if the resources aren’t the most valuable thing to them, I like to think it’s the most valuable thing in the bag, but even if the gift card was what made them smile, I’m okay with that,” she says.

Suzana credits her long term partner and the volunteers who help her for bringing Kindness Matters to fruition each year. This group effort is in line with Suzana’s belief that wellness should be a community effort.

“I don’t think wellness can ever be one person’s responsibility or one family’s responsibility, I don’t think that’s realistic. I think wellness is always a community issue,” she says, noting that she also encourages others to champion their own wellness initiatives. This year, the Kindness Matters team also handed out information on volunteering at Distress Centre, for those they meet who want to get engaged in wellness that way.

Distress Centre would like to thank Suzana, her partner and her volunteers for spreading wellness and informing Calgarians of Distress Centre and 211, and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

If you would like to learn more about Kindness Matters and get involved, you can visit their Facebook page.