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Canberra family spreads Christmas cheer with Operation Christmas Spirit

The card Canberra's Latoya Marks gave to a "well-behaved little girl" that has captured the attention of Canberrans online.
The card Canberra's Latoya Marks gave to a "well-behaved little girl" that has captured the attention of Canberrans online. Photo: Supplied

A Canberra family is on a mission to spread a little extra Christmas cheer throughout the capital this month.

As tragic news from around the world leaves many feeling a little deflated, Ellie Marks and her partner Latoya's "Operation Christmas Spirit" is gradually lifting the spirits of a growing number of Canberrans through random acts of kindness.

One gesture in particular has captured the capital's attention: a Christmas card congratulating a young girl on her good behaviour at a northside cafe.

The Marks family noticed the young girl patiently waiting for her food inside Westfield Belconnen's Max Brenner and decided to pass on the Christmas card with an enclosed $5 note and a special message:

"Santa is always watching. He sends people to let you know that you are on the 'nice' list. Here's a reward for being so good!"

Little did they know the young girl who received the card had been recently separated from her birth family.

The child's foster carer took to Facebook to thank "Santa's Little Helper".

The post has been shared more than 1700 times, received more than 14,000 'likes' and more than 300 heartfelt comments, as of Tuesday afternoon.

Many commentators said they were brought to tears after reading the post, including the young girl's foster family.

"I could not hold back the tears when I opened the card you left and read your thoughtful words," the foster carer's post read.

"You acknowledged the beautiful behaviour of my child, who sat quietly eating chocolate strawberries and chatting to me and my friend.

"What you couldn't have possibly known, is that the child you took the time to acknowledge has recently been [separated] from their birth family.

"Life for a foster child is not easy, but through your kindness you have shown this amazing child the spirit of community.

"As a foster carer, I can't tell you how much your gift of kind words (and $5) means to us.

"Your random act of kindness towards us complete strangers has touched me deeply. I will treasure this memory for my lifetime."

Ellie said her family, including her four children, had been "completely overwhelmed" by the community's response to the gesture.

"As parents you're often judged on how your children behave," she said.

"We thought it would be nice to recognise just how well she had been behaving.

"We didn't ever do this with the intention of being recognised for these deeds; we just wanted to teach our kids about Christmas and how to give."

Ellie said Operation Christmas Spirit had replaced the family's advent calendar as a way to encourage her children to pay it forward.

"We've been watching all the horrible things happening around the world and have realised our kids are so lucky to have the life they have," she said.

"We thought it was a better way of trying to teach our kids the spirit of Christmas."

Other random acts of kindness undertaken by the Marks family have included paying for an elderly woman's groceries, writing Christmas cards for people who "looked like they needed a little Christmas spirit" and donating change to charity.

"Just little things that don't cost very much but make a big difference to those receiving them," Ellie said.

"That's our message: it's really simple to pay it forward."

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