When foster parent Kathy saw the child she is caring for light up at the sight of his breakfast cereal — or cereal commercials on TV — she wanted him to experience that happiness all the time.
“When he watches them, it just brought him so much joy. He’ll sit there and his hands are going and he’s all excited and his feet are going and he’s all excited and [he gives] big belly laughs,” said Kathy.
The child has autism and has been in Kathy’s care for about a month. CBC News is not naming the child or using the foster parent’s last name in order to protect the identity of the child.
Kathy said the idea just came to her all of a sudden: a cereal box mural in his bedroom.
So she posted in a Kingsville, Ont., Facebook group and asked for empty cereal boxes.
WATCH: Kathy describes the child’s reaction to seeing the wall for the first time:
“I thought that people would think I was a little off-the-wall doing something like that — no pun intended — but they didn’t. They saw that it was something that could possibly bring joy to a child and gladly came alongside us,” she said.
“It’s almost like a community wall in our home … I would have never been able to do it myself without the help of the community.”
‘Eyes were big like loonies’
Two Greater Essex County District School Board schools collected boxes from their breakfast programs and Kathy said she’d come home to boxes on her doorstep from people in the community.
One of those who helped out was Kingsville District High School child and youth worker Michelle Riess.
She said she had students who helped the school’s breakfast program save the cereal boxes.
“I thought it was going to be a tremendous way to make somebody’s day,” Riess said.
“I think any time the community can come together [with something as] simple as cereal boxes … if it’s going to make the young man happy, I’m feeling really good that we contributed toward that.”
Kathy describes the moment that the child saw the mural as “priceless.”
“Autistic children don’t really show a lot of emotion at times. But he just walked in and his jaw fell and his eyes were big like loonies and he was like, ‘Wow, cereal boxes,'” said Kathy.
“He was just in awe. That night when he went to bed he faced that wall and was just staring at it.”
‘I grew up in foster care’
Kathy said she can tell that the wall brings the child “peace” and each day when he wakes up, it’s like Christmas morning.
Wherever the child goes next, Kathy said the cereal wall will be taken down and travel with him.
She said she’s still waiting on some cereal boxes that are coming in from the United States, adding that those will be used to cover his bedroom door.
This child is one of many Kathy has fostered over the last 30 years. She said she decided to become a foster parent because she was once in their shoes.
“I grew up in foster care,” she said.
“I wanted to be able to make sure the kids were in a home where they felt loved, where they felt valued and where they felt understood.”