Calgary man rallying for one million smiles opens free store

They say laughter is contagious, and one Calgary man is boiling it down to smiles.

Akeam Francis’ goal is simple: make someone’s day better. And now, every Saturday in Rundle, he does that 100 times over by handing over clothing, books, household items and even beds in exchange for nothing more than a smile.

“That’s how TheSmileShop works,” the 23-year-old said with his trademark grin. “The idea is that we can grow the community trust with people, because a lot of families need stuff, and a lot of families have stuff. Why not give them a central spot to come in and just have what they need?”

Francis started the mission in January, and said he usually sees more than 100 people come through the doors every week.

The donations have piled in, with the garage behind the King of Glory Lutheran Church packed to the max with dishes, shoes and car seats.

There’s no limit to what people take and what people donate, but Francis said he only asks that people “shop with integrity.”

“This is by the community, for the community,” he said. “But we haven’t really had any problems with people taking advantage. People are very respectful, they can see that it’s free for all, but it’s not a free-for-all. It’s about taking what you need and being a part of the community.”

TheSmileShop is the latest project of Francis’ first brainchild: SmileGang. Last year, he grabbed a few friends and started knocking on doors and helping anyone in need.

The small non-profit has been landscaping yards for seniors, helping people move and taken over dish-duty. With a notebook in hand, Francis has been collecting every smile he receives from those he helps, with the goal of reaching one million.

As of Thursday afternoon, his notebook count hit 798 smiles, and he shows no signs of giving up. This past week he was given a $500 donation to open up a second location in Forest Lawn.

“It’s a very strong community here in Calgary” he said. “It’s so beautiful. I’m constantly thrown by the generosity and the response.”

TheSmileShop is open every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 2640 Rundlelawn Road N.E. They accept small household items and clean, lightly used clothes as donations every Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.