Happiness advent calendars with Jake Sbardella

16 year old Jake Sbardella has a noble goal of spreading happiness and raising money for people in need. Through his Happiness Advent Calendars, Jake’s fundraising efforts are proof that young people really can make a meaningful difference in the world.

The Thrifty Philanthropist: Tell us a little about yourself.

Jake Sbardella: I live with my mum and sister, and dog, Benji. I have just completed year 10 and I work part-time. In my spare time I love keeping fit, by running and training at the gym. I enjoying playing games online with my friends and have a passion for video editing.

TTP: Tell us the story behind your Happiness Advent Calendars.

JS: In 2015 after we had had a difficult year, my mum asked me if I wanted a chocolate advent calendar for Christmas. I said no and I asked if she could make me a Happiness Advent Calendar. Mum didn’t know what that was and I said, ‘You are always so good at making me happy. Can you please make me a quote to read each day to remind me of how lucky I am?’ So she did. She made me a Happiness Advent Calendar with things from around the house. Lots of our friends and family then asked if they could also have one of them. 

A teenage boy sits on large bluestone steps. He is holding sleeping bags, mats and tents.
Jake Sbardella with his donations
made possible through the sale of his Happiness Advent Calendars

TTP: Why do you chose to support the cause of homelessness?

For as long as I can remember I have been worried about homeless people and wanted to help. When I was 8, I would lie in bed awake and worry where people without a home or somewhere safe to shelter would go on rainy nights. 

JS: I distinctly remember returning home from a visit to Melbourne, I was really sad about seeing all the homeless people sleeping on the street. Mum and I went online and started looking at ways to help and saw a YouTube clip about the street swags. We discovered swags only costs $95 so my goal became to purchase one sleep swag. 

Mum and I decided that we should try and sell a few of my Happiness Advent Calendars to raise money for the swags. Mum went onto Facebook and asked if anyone would like to buy my calendars. In the first night we made enough money to buy two sleep swags! Within days, orders were going crazy, so we engaged a printer and made professional calendars. I choose all the quotes and my mum designs them.

My sister, mum and I spend June to October printing, binding and packaging up the calendars. People can order on my Facebook page and we have sent them all over Australia and even overseas. I also sell them at local markets from October to December and a few local shops stock them. 

After five years I have created six different calendars. To date I have donated $19,500 to local homeless charities. These include Sleep Swags, Anglicare Ballarat, The Soup Bus, The Shower Bus, St Vincent De Paul and Uniting Care Ballarat. 

A teenage boy stands outside a Uniting Care building holding a sleeping bag, mat and tent in his arms.
Jake Sbardella with a tent, sleeping bag and mat
that he was able to purchase for people in need through fundraising

TTP: You’ve helped make a real tangible impact on people’s lives through your fundraising – what has been your proudest moment?

JS: The latest census data tells us that one in 200 people in Ballarat are homeless or at risk and vulnerable. It feels good knowing that I can assist some of the local organisations helping those in need. I have been humbled by meeting many of the volunteers at these organisations who do such fabulous work. They are always extremely grateful to receive cash donations to assist with their work.

I have seen first-hand, the One Humanity Shower Bus in operation, met with volunteers who run the Anglicare breakfast program, assisted in stacking shelves at the Soup Bus, and heard about the number of locals they feed each week and the volumes of food required to do so. Seeing the difference they are making motivates me to raise more money. 

TTP: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way?

JS: When COVID hit, all of the markets we attend each year were cancelled. I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to sell as many calendars as we normally do. My Pa and I got chatting and he offered to help by making pallet Christmas trees. Under his expertise, he makes trees with assistance from me, which we sell to help fill the gap in fundraising.

TTP: What have been your biggest lessons or eye opening moments?

JS: I visit the local welfare agencies annually to donate the money I have raised. Speaking to them first-hand about the challenges people in our community face and the help they need has been an eye opening lesson. Basic human needs such as shelter, food and clothing are difficult for many people in our community.

I’m grateful we have such amazing agencies locally and so many wonderful people assisting these vulnerable people. I’ve purchased and donated many tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mats and food vouchers to Uniting Care for people who are at crisis point. The local organisations are a lifeline to vulnerable people in the community. They feel comforted knowing there is somewhere to turn to. I feel that selling my calendars and making an annual donation contributes in a small way.

TTP: What advice would you give to other young people who want to make a difference?

JS: At first I thought I was too young to make a difference but I realized I can actually do something! One of my favorite quotes which inspired me and features in one of my calendars, is “Even if you’re little you can do a lot!” 

TTP: Why should people buy your calendars?

JS: Happiness Advent Calendars make you feel good as you get a happy little quote each day in the count down to Christmas. You know that all of the funds raised are going to help people in need in our community.

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