The Giffords are a Thorold South family who are paying it forward. GFL Environmental recently donated $5,000 dollars on their behalf to the St. Catharines Shrine Club.
The donation is personal for the Giffords, as the Shriners were there for them when they needed it most.
It all started five years ago when Ashley Gifford, who was ten at the time, was diagnosed with scoliosis.
“I was really sick on Mother Day’s weekend and after three days of a non-stop 106 degrees fever my mom put me in the hospital,” says Ashley Gifford, in an interview with ThoroldToday. “They were like: ‘Hey, does your daughter know she has scoliosis?’”
At first the family tried to keep the diagnosis private but when Ashley’s father Garth Gifford finally told his best friend, everything changed.
“[Garth’s] best friend’s dad is a Shriner,” Ashley’s mother Amie Gifford tells ThoroldToday. “As soon as he found out, by Monday I had the head of Shriners calling me, and by Tuesday I had the hospital calling me.”
The Shriners work with select hospitals in Canada and the US so the closest hospital with a scoliosis specialist was right across the border in Erie.
“The hospital is paid for, they pay for all your gas and food—They do everything out of their own pocket,” says Amie.
When they met with the specialist, the family found out that Ashley would need a back brace.
“It worked at first,” Amie says. “She went down to a 27 degrees curve. She grew two inches and then she jumped to 45. They tried another brace which didn’t work and then we jumped to 52.”
Because of the pandemic, it got harder for the family to travel across the border.
“We couldn’t get a back brace in time and a lot of that was COVID,” says Amie. “There were just so many border restrictions. She grew to the point that it was not fixable anymore so she had to have the surgery.”
In the summer of 2021, Ashley went down to Philadelphia for ten days to get surgery on her spine. The medical team inserted two rods and 18 screws into her back. The recovery took three weeks and by September Ashley was back in school.
“I basically am how I was before the surgery, just with more pain,” she says. “It’s like seasonal pain. In the summer I am perfectly fine and nothing is even wrong but I think with the cold the metal adjusts.”
Now 15, Ashley is slowly getting better but her mobility is still affected. Fortunately, she tries to make the most of every day.
“My back doesn’t bend how it used to but I can still do handstands and cartwheels,” she says. “I can’t do back bridges or somersaults. I can’t do any exercises where I lay on my back and move because my shoulder blade still pops out a little bit so it’s very uncomfortable.”
To pay it forward Ashley has become an ambassador for the St. Catharines Shrine Club.
“Most of the things we do with them are all the parades and dinners,” says Amie. “It’s nice to be able to do the parade and people can actually see someone that they helped.”
But that’s not all the Giffords have been doing to pay it forward. Ashley’s father Garth works as an operations manager for GFL Environmental. The company has a program called the Full Circle Project that gives back to local communities.
When it was Garth’s turn to submit a name for consideration of a local charitable organization, he didn’t have to think long.
“Of course [the Shrine Club] was the first charitable organization that popped in my head,” he says. “You want to give back, especially it being so personal because it helped my daughter. I’m not saying I wouldn’t think of it if it didn’t happen with her but it just made it black and white.”
On Wednesday evening, the Giffords attended the Christmas party of the St. Catharines Shrine Club, where Garth handed over a cheque on behalf of GFL Environmental for $5,000.
The Shrine Club needs the money now more than ever, according to Garth.
“It’s been a tough couple of years for them,” he says. “They couldn’t do anything. A lot of the St. Catharines money comes from the cake sales so not being able to them for two years hit them hard.”
Fortunately, the Shriners will continue to pay for Ashley’s medical care until she is at least 18 years old and to thank them in turn, Ashley plans to keep being their ambassador for a very long time.
Amie says that this is just the start of a life-long affiliation between the family and the Shriners.
“We gained friends,” she says. “I said: ‘Well, eventually this ends,’ and they said: ‘No, actually, this doesn’t.’ I thought that was nice. We gained a whole different type of family.”