LITTLE ANGLICAN ANGEL: Stephen McPhee, now 8, with his mom, Nancy, author of Dream Outloud, has helped thousands of homeless children at Christmas with his backpacks project.
In December 2006, when he was only five years old, Stephen McPhee learned that children can be homeless. He felt sad. He told his mother, “I have to help them.”
Stephen has autism. Acute sensory feedback means sights, sounds, smells, space, touch and textures make his body stiffen. He will often retreat. But at the age of eight, he is doing well in grade three and has taken up swimming and skating. Now, the intense concentration associated with autism propels Stephen’s compassion for helping others. Stephen learned about Jesus at St. Francis of Assisi in Airdrie, Alta.
Nancy and James McPhee, who adopted Stephen when he was a newborn, responded to his request to help homeless children by filling 15 backpacks with basic hygiene products as well as toys, mitts, a toque, books and candy. Then on Christmas Eve in 2006, they took the backpacks to an Inn from the Cold. This Anglican-initiated Calgary agency provides shelter in church basements.
“We need to listen to our children because then we can see through the heart and eyes of a child,” says Nancy.
After Christmas, Stephen learned that there were still more kids on the street. Stephen announced to a local newspaper that he wanted to make 150 backpacks.
His mother was stunned. Stephen told her, “Mommy you have to dream out loud!”
After Stephen’s interview, hundreds of people offered assistance. On Christmas Eve 2007, a total of 265 backpacks were donated to Inn from the Cold.
Next, Stephen learned that children need running shoes for school. Once again, he just had to do something. With help from others, including a Canadian Superstore, the need was met. Now, every summer, running shoes are distributed to hundreds of homeless children.
In 2008, more than 250 volunteers and 300 corporations supported Stephen, making it possible for 1,025 homeless children to receive a backpack. Each backpack carries a slip of paper with a quote from Jeremiah 29:11. I know the plans I have for you, declared the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Added to the Christmas list this year are young residents on reserves of the Siksika Nation and Piikani Nation. An agency that assists older homeless youth, McMahon Youth Services, will also receive Stephen’s backpacks.
Proceeds from Nancy’s book about her remarkable son, Dream Outloud, took two families off the street at Christmas last year. And it looks like the backpacks project will help even more families this year. Last month, 600 of Stephen’s schoolmates filled backpacks for Christmas. Stephen’s wish? “I just can’t wait, Mommy, until you tell me that there are no more kids on the street.”
Tim Christison is editor of The Sower, the newspaper of the diocese of Calgary.