2017-04-16 / Insight

‘We can move mountains’

Jelly Beans and Smiles group donates 1,711 Easter baskets
BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE
810-452-2601 • npugliese@mihomepaper.com


Julie Ann Caris takes a break among dozens of Easter baskets she and Lapeer Kiwanis volunteers assembled during a meeting in March. These baskets, along with over a thousand others, were given to local nonprofit groups to donate to children across Lapeer County. 
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Julie Ann Caris takes a break among dozens of Easter baskets she and Lapeer Kiwanis volunteers assembled during a meeting in March. These baskets, along with over a thousand others, were given to local nonprofit groups to donate to children across Lapeer County. Photo by Nicholas Pugliese LAPEER — When a community comes together to achieve a common goal, the results can be surprising. What began as one woman’s goal to share with her neighbors the positivity that comes with Easter has grown into an organization that involves dozens of volunteers, several nonprofit groups joining forces and almost 2,000 Easter baskets.

Jelly Beans and Smiles, a group founded and organized by Julie Ann Caris, this year assembled and donated 1,711 Easter baskets to the children of Lapeer County. In its existence, Jelly Beans and Smiles has donated more than 10,000 baskets.

“This was a record year, I’m so excited!” said Caris. “As we made the baskets, we donated them. We give them directly to the nonprofits.”

All the baskets and their contents are donated to Jelly Beans and Smiles by individuals and organizations in the Lapeer area, and all the baskets go to families in the county. “I know over 120 people, businesses, nonprofits and organizations donate to Jelly Beans and Smiles,” said Caris. “It was amazing, I feel so blessed.”

Caris and her volunteers, daughters Courtney and Lacey, with help from Kiwanis Club of Lapeer, assemble the baskets and pass them off to community organizations like Stone Soup, who this year donated 1,250 baskets to their clients. 2016 Lapeer Citizen of the Year recipient Steve MacLeod of Stone Soup, Lapeer’s only client choice food pantry, said he’s just happy to be the conduit for Caris’s good work. “We get to see the joy,” said MacLeod. “We just get to give a little joy to people who need it.”

Stone Soup has grown over the years to provide more than 300 children per month with healthy options for food, and many of the 1,250 Easter baskets the organization received from Jelly Beans and Smiles were donated to the children of the families already familiar with Stone Soup’s services. MacLeod and Stone Soup also donated 200 baskets to Maple Grove Elementary’s early childhood development program, as well as to churches and Lapeer Community Mental Health. “You gotta give credit to Julie (Caris), said MacLeod. “She deserves all the credit.”

While Easter may not be a holiday that typically features the same spirit of giving inspired by holidays like Christmas, Caris said that in her house during her childhood, Easter was a major holiday.

“In my house growing up, Easter was a big deal, and I wanted to share that with people,” she said. “If you have ever sponsored a child and/or family for Christmas or Thanksgiving, you understand that even that small amount of compassion and attention can make a world of difference.”

MacLeod said that by being involved in the donations, his organization gets to see that difference firsthand. “To give an Easter basket made with love to a person who needs it will help spread the generosity of this community,” he said.

Both Caris and MacLeod credit the success of both Stone Soup and Jelly Beans and Smiles to community activism and people of an area coming together to affect positive change for themselves and their neighbors. Caris commented, “It’s a community-based project, and it’s the community just embracing each other and helping each other, it’s just amazing.”

Caris hopes that by providing another avenue for the community to spread goodwill, it can create a positive impact and make for a happier, healthier and safer place to live.

“When you can work together for the common good in Lapeer, this is the end product,” said MacLeod. “We can move mountains.”

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