One hundred miles from her home in central Minnesota to receive breast cancer treatment in the Twin Cities, Cynthia Johnson never figured she'd get a special Valentine. But then, she never figured on 7-year-old Carly Glomstad.
Johnson, who is staying at Hope Lodge, a Minneapolis facility that provides lodging for cancer patients from outside the metro area who need extended care, was one of 60 guests getting a goodie bag from Carly Monday night.
The effervescent Maple Grove youngster is determined that by Tuesday night, 420 people will wear a special Valentine's Day smile.
Along with her parents, Jim and Tina, and 9-year-old brother, Brian, she will spend the day delivering goodie bags filled with love to people who could use a little more of it.
"I want to do something for people who don't get Valentine cards," said Carly, who takes the bags to assisted-living residences, crisis centers and medical rehabilitation facilities.
Her motivation is simple: "It makes me feel good," she said. "Valentine's Day is my favorite holiday. Well, that and Christmas. And my birthday. I really like Halloween, too, because of the costumes."
This is the fourth year Carly has handed out the bags, with the list of stops growing annually. There were so many this year that the deliveries were spread over three days, with stops on Saturday afternoon and Monday evening.
"She did such a nice job," Johnson said of Carly. "There are some people here who are having a really difficult time, and when you're away from home, you don't expect festivities like this. It's just like being home."
The recipients are touched by the gesture, but they aren't the only ones, said Shary Larson, activities director at River Oaks of Anoka, an assisted-living facility Carly will be visiting this year for the third time. "Members of the staff have tears in their eyes," she said. "It's just a precious time."
As the number of deliveries has grown, volunteers have stepped forward to help. Carly's family assembled all the bags the first couple of times, but this year's effort included Carly's fellow first-graders at Greenview Elementary School in Plymouth, her Daisy troop and a couple of church confirmation classes who heard about the project.
Inspired by a sweet story
Carly's parents insist that, although they pitch in, this is her project, not theirs. In fact, her mother admitted, the first time Carly suggested it, she agreed mainly because she thought it was just a passing fancy.
"We were reading the book 'Love, Ruby Valentine,' which is about a girl who makes Valentine's Day goodie bags filled with treats and then passes them out," Tina Glomstad said. "Carly loved the story and immediately said that she wanted to do it, too, because it seemed so nice to make people smile and feel special.
"We read the book in October. I said, 'OK,' because I figured that, like any 4-year-old, she'd forget about it by February. She didn't."
Carly cracked open her piggy bank and contributed the $48.76 therein to the first year's goodie bags. Family and friends chipped in to raise the total to $450, enough to make 115 bags. Since then, her mission has been funded by people who go to her website, carlyvalentine.com, to help.
"It's just amazing; people who don't even know us are sending money," Jim Glomstad said. "She has taken this thing and turned it into something special."
The website collects more money than is needed; the extra is donated to charity. That was Carly's idea, too. In the second year, she collected $1,200, made 165 bags and donated $600.
Last year, she raised $2,740, made 320 bags and gave away $1,215. This year she got over $4,200. After making 420 bags, she expects to have about $2,300 to donate.
The bags include a coffee mug (inscribed "XOXO, Smile because you're special! Love Carly"), an ink pen ("Smile today! Love Carly") and a wrist band ("Make every day Valentine's Day! Love Carly"). Each bag also comes with a card made -- and personally decorated with glitter -- by Carly.
The one downside to Carly's mission is that because it takes all day Tuesday to deliver the goodie bags, she will miss her school Valentine's Day party.
But the trade-off is that soon her mailbox will be filled with thank-you notes from the people she visited -- and even some she didn't.
"She gets cards from people saying, 'I like what you're doing,'" her dad said. "She loves getting those cards."
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392