BURRILLVILLE – In the years since the death of 18-year-old Burrillville resident Shannon Heil, “Sharing for Shannon” has become a tradition in northern Rhode Island, a way to remember a life lost too soon while helping others.
And the holiday season is no exception.
Over the weekend, the “Fierce Elves,” a group of do-gooders who hit the streets each Christmas in Heil’s memory, made their rounds at local supermarkets, surprising holiday shoppers by picking up the tab for grocery bills.
The elves made stops at stores including Dave’s Marketplace in Smithfield and Brigidos Fresh Market in North Smithfield, selecting shoppers at random to help, and handing them the now well-known coupon with instructions to “Share for Shannon.”
The movement encourages recipients of acts of kindness to pay it forward, passing along the goodwill to create a multiplier effect.
And in Burrillville, some unexpected recipients doing good on their own benefitted from the effort.
Volunteers were holding a bake sale outside Brigidos in Pascoag on Saturday, Dec. 21 to raise funds for the Burrillville Animal Shelter. Thanks to the elves, patrons were feeling generous, and the group collected more than $1,400 in donations.
“They came out of the grocery store with all their money in their pocket and they ran right into us,” said Chris Watson. “Without the elves from the Share for Shannon foundation, we wouldn’t have done anywhere near as well.”
“It was a tremendous success,” said Norman Desjarlais in a post on the effort.
The movement was started in 2014 by Heil’s father, Brian Heil, who leads a small army of helpers in a mission to “invest in humanity.” Over the weekend, Mrs. Claus joined members of three teams spreading goodwill.
“It was designed to refocus a moment in time from being what could be negative, and turn it into something amazingly positive,” said Heil.
In the past five years, Heil said Share for Shannon has invested almost $70,000 into random people’s lives through scholarships, grants and pay it forward experiences.
In Burrillville, their efforts coincided with those of members of the Red Barn group that first organized in opposition to a proposal to build a power plant in town.
That group presented a donation to the Burrillville Animal Shelter on Monday, Dec. 23.
“This is phenomenal,” said Animal Control Officer Ronald Woods. “This community – they come out of the woodwork.”
Woods noted that the shelter takes in neglected and abandoned animals, and gives them care, including shots and needed veterinary care.
“We couldn’t do it without you,” said Woods. “Without these organizations’ funding it wouldn’t be possible.”
With Christmas approaching this week, it’s clear Heil’s movement and its ripple effect continues to touch many in Burrillville and beyond.
“Please continue to pay it forward,” said Desjarlais. “Be kind to one another.”