Charity Mailer Compares Kids With Cleft Palates to Halloween Monsters

smile train fundraising halloween mailer
Kristen Carr/Facebook

If you've heard of the nonprofit organization Smile Train, it's probably in connection with all of the amazing work it does providing free medical services to children born with cleft palates. But supporters were less than thrilled with the organization's recent Halloween-themed mailer, which seemed to compare children with cleft palates to Halloween monsters.

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Kristen Carr, a mom from Texas whose own 3-year-old son was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, posted a photo of the totally inappropriate mailer on Facebook, along with her opinion on the organization's failed fund-raising campaign.

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smile train halloweeen mailer
Kristen Carr/Facebook
In her post, Carr explains how since her son's birth, her family has personally donated over $10,000 to Smile Train. Instead of Christmas gifts, they've asked friends and family and even employers to donate to the organization. But the Halloween-themed mailer was so offensive to Carr that she no longer wants to support them. "This year and every future year," she wrote, "our donations to SmileTrain will stop, and I wanted to tell you why."

On the outside envelope of the mailer was a little boy with a bilateral cleft palate, alongside the words: "What if every day felt like Halloween?" 

Inside the mailer was the same little boy post–corrective surgery with the words, "You have the power to end their nightmare."

I have a rant building inside me about how disgusting and wrong this is, but Carr is the mom of a child with a cleft palate and therefore the expert, so let's hear from her instead. "I am, quite simply, appalled," she wrote. "I am disappointed, and I am also furious. The clear connotation is that, pre-surgery, cleft-affected children are akin to monsters."

Yup. She nailed it. Who's in charge of marketing for Smile Train? Comparing children to Halloween horrors based on their appearance? Seriously??

Carr explains exactly why the mailer was so hurtful. "I am not going to waste my time explaining that every single parent of a cleft-affected child falls head over heels in love with their child's original 'wide smile,'" she wrote. "Instead, I'll just share this post with a group of over 9,000 moms of cleft-affected kids, and they can tell you their stories for themselves."

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Share she did, and so did other families whose lives have been touched by individuals with a cleft palate. The response to the mailer was so overwhelming that Smile Train issued an official apology.

"We are truly sorry that our recent Halloween-themed mailings were offensive and hurtful," Susannah Schaefer, chief executive officer of Smile Train, told Today Parents in an email. "It was never our intent to adversely depict the very children that we are dedicated to helping. Our intent was solely to help children with cleft lip and/or palate live healthy and happy lives."

Still, with 1 in 700 kids born with a cleft palate, sensitivity to issues like this one is paramount. And as for Carr, she says no apology in the world will ever be enough. "To be clear, this isn't the kind of 'mistake' that an apology can fix," she wrote. "It's not a spelling error. Many, many people in your organization saw and approved this mailing before it was sent. This is a representation of your sentiments toward cleft-affected children, and you will not receive another donated penny from us."

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