As I strolled the Elmwood Village on Saturday, watching people busily bustle from store to store in search of the “perfect” gift, I pondered a very early holiday gift that I received this year. It was perfect.

No, it wasn’t the latest gadget or gourmet extravaganza.  It wasn’t wrapped in a pretty red bow or laid under a Christmas tree. It was the Great American Smokeout (GASO) and I received it on November 19, 2015. It came in the form of a double header media event including 77 passionate 7th and 8th graders from Harvey Austin School  picking up cigarette butts in their East Side community and a group of well organized Colleges Against Cancer members at Canisius College rallying staff and students to adopt a campus smoke-free policy.

So, what made it so perfect?

For one, the experience was a total surprise. Being my first tobacco-free holiday as media and marketing specialist here at TFWNY, I had no idea what to expect. No idea how the seemingly well-planned-on-paper events would turn out in reality. Would middle school kids think learning about the health and environmental aspects of smoking could be interesting and fun instead of adult-enforced drudgery? Would college students take time away from their final papers and pre-Thanksgiving celebrations to discourage tobacco use on their campus? Would media show up?

Yes. Yes and Yes.

Harvey Austin students , donning gloves and the eye of the tiger versus tobacco, ran campus wide to pick up pounds of the world’s #1 pollutant. “Gross,” and “Nasty” were the words of the hour and the kids went back to their classrooms with glad tidings of telling Big Tobacco that they don’t like toxic butts littering their school grounds. Even better, WIVB-TV and TWC caught the whole thing on camera, sharing this good news throughout the region. Here’s proof that Harvey Austin students kicked some serious butt.

A couple miles down Main Street, the second half of my gift was coming to life. Dozens of Colleges Against Cancer club members gathered at the Andrew L. Bouwhuis Library, encouraging passers-by to sign a smoke-free petition asking that Canisius College adopt a smoke-free campus policy. They also distributed smoking fact sheets, candy for those smokers who wanted to quit for the day and featured giant ashtrays for smokers to toss their unsmoked cigs in. See my gift’s second part here.

They say the best gifts are things that a person needs. That’s the second thing that makes this so perfect. I needed this. I needed all these students — their passion, their energy and their advocacy for a tobacco-free world. Even though I received the gift nearly a month ago, it keeps on giving. I am reminded every day that our TFWNY mission is shared and that together we can make our next generation tobacco free.

Posted by Gretchen Galley, Marketing Communications Manager at Tobacco-Free Western New York