• Jessica Whelan

All About Flat Dick


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One day my mother-in-law and her friend spotted Flat Dick while out on a walk near the marina. They gasped with laughter at the boat's name* and couldn't imagine where it had come from. Months later, my MIL recalled to me that years ago there was a sort of community chain letter project by that name in which people would mail a little paper cutout of a man around the world.

A row of small sailboats tied and anchored at a marina under a clear blue sky
Another great boat name we've seen: Never Again II

As it turns out, the paper guy was actually Flat Stanley, and he was based on a 1964 book character by the same name. About 30 years after the book came out, a teacher in London Ontario started The Flat Stanley Project, to teach kids reading and writing and to connect people in different places. It was so successful that he won the country's highest teaching award and the program grew to include 88 countries. Flat Stanley even met Schwarzenegger and Obama, and was a passenger on US Airways flight 1549 (but sadly his thrilling escape via briefcase never made it into the final version of Tom Hanks' Sully).


The idea of sending a tiny paper person around the world has captured the imagination of so many kids. Everyone loves to be part of his journey and host him when he comes to visit. I've noticed that people feel a similar excitement when they see their clothing travel around the neighbourhood.


Friends and neighbours who share their clothing with my kids are delighted whenever they see their child's former dress, shoes or well-loved pair of snow pants. They remember the days their kids played, explored and grew while wearing those things. They feel a sense of satisfaction and contentment knowing that they were able to pass something of value on to someone else. It's the same for me when I'm able to give something special to another family who can use it.


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This differs from the feeling of doing the right thing by helping someone less fortunate - like dropping clothes off at a donation centre - because a) our family is capable of buying brand new clothes but we choose not to, and b) the givers and the receivers know each other well. It's like a game of Flat Stanley we play together in our little area.


But what if it could be bigger? What if people had a means to share with each other across neighbourhoods, cities, and provinces without losing that sense of connection? What if we could share the things we have quickly and easily? What if there was a way to crowdsource kids' clothes nationwide, stop adding perfectly good clothing to our landfills, and get to know each other better in the process? This is the aim of my work with Phoenix Preworn. To connect families to each other to share more effectively, and to end some of the hassles involved in keeping up the wardrobe of a growing child.


Starting this month, all our wardrobe boxes will be going out with a little surprise inside. My hope is that kids will embrace our yet-unnamed "Phlat Phoenix" and send them out into the world. If you'd like to get involved but don't need to place an order just yet, you can sign up for the Phoenix mailing list instead. You'll receive all the info you need to start a Phlat Phoenix journey with your little ones.


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It's so heartwarming to see something you shared live again with someone or someplace new! For me, the first time was when I saw someone walk out of the thrift shop carrying a diaper caddy I had donated less than an hour before. Have you ever had a great moment like that? If so, please share in the comments below!


* We still don't know why in the world someone named their boat Flat Dick. If you do, go ahead and let us in on the secret.

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