Zac Winkler remembers the moment when he decided he wanted to help sick children. He was six years old, in the family room at his grandparents’ house, and his parents were explaining to him why his younger sister, Maya, who was three at the time, had been in the hospital.
As Winkler’s parents explained his sister’s situation, it dawned on him that there were others like her.
“It really occurred to me that it’s not just my sister. There are thousands and thousands of kids in and out every year. Some make it out and some don’t. Personally, how I see it is it’s obviously terrible if an adult is diagnosed with something and forced to go to the hospital, but for a child, personally, I just think it’s beyond terrible for that to happen,” said Winkler, who’s now a Grade 12 student at TanenbaumCHAT in Toronto and plans to study in a yeshiva in Israel next year.
Winkler asked why doctors couldn’t help everyone and his parents explained that there wasn’t enough time and money to help them all. Then he asked why people didn’t give enough money to help everybody and his parents explained that people give what they can, but that there’s only so much money and lots of causes and charities. Then Winkler asked if there was a hospital for sick kids and his parents confirmed that there was – the Hospital for Sick Children, or SickKids.
“So he says, ‘Why don’t we raise money so there’s never any sick kids,’ ” recalled his father, Rich Winkler.
Winkler knew his father’s business had a cotton candy machine, so he had the idea of selling cotton candy in their Thornhill, Ont., neighbourhood. He raised just over $500.
That was in 2007 and was the first in what’s become an annual event that he calls “Do Something Sweet.” This year marks the 12th consecutive Do Something Sweet, which has now raised over $100,000 for SickKids.
At first, Winkler didn’t know where the money went to.
“With the amount of money we were raising, it was hard for it to go to anything specific,” he said.
But in the last few years, as the donations have greatly increased, it’s been possible to earmark the money for specific projects. Some of it has gone toward something called a Snoezelen room, also known as a controlled multisensory environment, which is used to create a soothing environment for people with autism, developmental disabilities or brain injuries.
This year, the donations will go to the hospital’s Teeny Tiny Hearts campaign for complex infant cardiac surgery. SickKids is the only hospital in Canada that can detect and correct heart defects in babies before they are born.
Over the years, as part of Do Something Sweet, Winkler has held a silent auction, with items such as signed sports and music memorabilia and tickets to various events. He’s also brought in bouncy castles, a fire truck, politicians and plenty of food and other types of entertainment. This year, Leafs legend Darryl Sittler will be signing autographs from 3:30 to 4:30. And, of course, there’s always cotton candy.
Winkler has won a number of awards for his philanthropic work, including the UJA Teen Philanthropy Award and the Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year award. He is also going to be added to the SickKids’ Donor Wall.
“He’s very humble, that’s not why he does it. He doesn’t care about that kind of stuff. But I do. Because I’m proud of him,” said Rich Winkler.
Zac Winkler will be temporarily hanging up the cotton candy machine next year, as he goes to study in Israel, but he’s leaving it in the capable hands of his younger sister, Maya. He appreciates the difference it has made over the past 12 years.
“This little thing that started out as a cotton candy machine on a driveway has turned into this huge event that has really done a lot,” he said. n
Do Something Sweet will take place from 3-5 p.m. on Nov. 4 at 81 Ramblewood Lane in Thornhill.