Emelle’s famous gingerbread houses dazzle guests of the B.C. Lions Society Easter Seals House during the holiday season.
Featuring: Emma Liffen | Director of Philanthropy, B.C. Lions Society
Young Hannah Parker and her mother travelled to Vancouver so that she could receive stage four cancer treatment at B.C. Children’s Hospital, a treatment that was not available in their remote hometown. The distance, time and costs involved meant they had to leave Hannah’s three sisters and her father behind. As Hannah endured 33 rounds of chemotherapy, two surgeries, and 10 radiation treatments, her mother endured feelings of isolation and fear. Not only was she caring for a sick child alone without nearby friends or family to support, but she was adapting to life in the big city as well.
Luckily, Hannah and her mother found a home away from home at the Vancouver Easter Seals House. Situated on Oak Street and guarded by eight seven-foot-tall Spirit Artwork statues, the Easter Seals House, run by the B.C. Lions Society, offered them subsidized, short-term accommodation while Hannah received treatment. There they were supported not only by the staff but by the other families sharing the space. Whether dealing with a neurological condition, physical disability, mental illness or debilitating disease, the families at Easter Seals House are able to relate to and draw strength from each other.
The B.C. Lions Society began with summer camps in the 1950s and grew exponentially from there. Today the organization offers activities, advocacy and services that support children with diverse abilities and specialized medical needs. For Director of Philanthropy Emma Liffen, the Easter Seals House is one of their most rewarding programs. “At Easter Seals House we do 2,000 bed nights every year,” she says.
“It’s wonderful to be able to alleviate some stress for families and make them feel welcome in Vancouver.”
Creating a sense of welcome for guests is particularly important during the winter holiday season when the stress of navigating the medical system and the pain of being separated from family members is high. Easter Seals’ annual remedy for inspiring some holiday cheer is to display a gingerbread house in the main lobby.
“We’re not talking about your typical out-of-the-box gingerbread house,” laughs Liffen. “We’re talking about a one-of-a-kind, extremely detailed one that takes up an entire table.” Donated annually by Emelle’s Catering, these works of edible art are often inspired by, or direct replicas of, iconic scenes. Past creations have included frosted versions of the Vancouver Rowing Club, as well as whimsical fairytale-inspired creations such as Dr. Seuss’ Who-Ville and the ice castle from Disney’s Frozen.
The compassion and community that the gingerbread house instills has turned it into a highly anticipated tradition. It’s a talking point that helps guest families, like Hannah and her mother, meet and connect with other guest families. It’s also a rare WOW moment that can be shared with family back home. “We serve 700 B.C. communities through Easter Seals House, and those families take stories about the gingerbread house and the wonderful food and the generosity that they received back to their communities,” says Liffen.
What began as a business relationship—Emelle’s renting their café and kitchen from the B.C. Lions Society—turned into a meaningful partnership that has brought joy and assistance to the lives of the people who deserve it most. Over the past 20 years, Emelle’s has catered fundraising events for the organization and often goes above and beyond in giving to the cause.
“Emelle’s is really committed to serving the Vancouver community, and that complements the work we do. It makes a huge difference to work with people who share our vision and understand what we’re trying to achieve,” says Liffen.
“Together we’ve made an impact that’s reached far beyond Vancouver.”