- Brightening the pandemic while giving back

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Robin Roberts interviewed Jeffrey Moss from OurGlowingHearts as well as several customers & representatives from the charities we support.  
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From paper hearts to neon lights: How a Mississauga company is brightening the pandemic while giving back "Why not build a light in the shape of a heart that symbolizes that same thing, to show there’s still love in the world in a really challenging time?” says Moss LED Inc. owner Jeffrey Moss.

by Robin Roberts

Amid the chaos and uncertainty of those first few months after COVID struck in the spring of 2020, business owners scrambled to enforce safety mandates, reduce output, and furlough staff, all while their revenues dried up and their futures looked bleak.
Government supports helped briefly, but many entrepreneurs knew they’d have to pivot just to survive. And, much to their own surprise, many of them even thrived.
From restaurants shifting in-house dining to takeout, to in-class yoga sessions transitioning online, to in-person medical and business consultations becoming virtual, to hands-on workshops going digital, companies were able to reach a broader audience and tap whole new markets.
For Jeffrey Moss, founder of Mississauga-based Moss LED Inc. , which provides custom lighting products for film, television and live entertainment, including for series such as Schitt’s Creek, Working Moms and two Star Trek films, his saving grace came from the heart, literally. When the curtain dropped on the entertainment industry, demand for his lighting was snuffed. Anxious to avoid laying off his staff, he racked his brain for ways to keep them working. His light bulb moment came courtesy of his own backyard.


“Walking around the neighbourhood, I saw that people had put paper hearts in their windows, little signs and placards in their yards to support frontline workers,” he says. “So I thought, ‘Why not build a light in the shape of a heart that symbolizes that same thing, to show there’s still love in the world in a really challenging time?’”
Back at the shop, and thanks to the wage subsidy, he was able to rehire staff to start prototyping the hearts from unused neon. He began experimenting with how best to mount the 14-inch hearts in his own shop windowsill. His neighbours soon started to notice the warm white hearts shining through the glass and began asking him, “Hey, what’s that about and can I buy one?” he recalls. So to further his unofficial R&D, that August he started selling a few hearts to his small Leslieville neighbourhood of Toronto.
“I saw the heart in Jeff’s window and smiled,” says neighbour Andrea Greaney, who also works in film and television. “I didn’t know where it was from and what is was all about, but I knew I wanted one.” After she bought her first, she purchased several more for friends and family, including a friend in England. She also bought one in memory of her 18-and-a-half-year-old cat, Lily, who died recently.

Then, in September, during a Light Up Live event to support the entertainment industry, many concert halls, theatres and convention centres lit up their exteriors in red.

“They also encouraged people at home to put a red light out in front of their house, and that’s when we launched the red heart and dedicated it to live entertainment workers,” says Moss.

And so, Our Glowing Hearts was officially born.

News of the lights spread quickly on social media and suddenly Moss went from selling 30 or 40 hearts between August and November to 50 a day. The hearts then caught the attention of the national media, who began covering his little side hustle, and within five days, those 50 orders exploded into 1,000 a day from across the country.
“We really did not plan on going to that degree,” says Moss with a laugh. “I originally thought I would hand-deliver them on my way home from the office. That quickly got out of hand.”
At the end of 2020, film and television production ramped up and he was back in business. But, he thought, why not keep the hearts going too? So he utilized the wood shop that builds set pieces to construct the frames, then finished the assembly, packaging and shipping from his own shop, where he now employs five full-time heart assemblers, as well as a production line manager and a customer service person.
But that also “quickly got out of hand” when his orders continued to skyrocket and he ran into supply-chain issues. The power cables that plug in the lights are imported from overseas and, as with so many other businesses grappling with the same delays, those materials were sitting in a container ship off the coast of Vancouver. “Not a great time for Valentine’s Day,” says Moss. He is, however, hopeful that the logjam will break sometime in March and shipments will resume.

Lighting up for a good cause

In the meantime, he began getting inquiries from charities to design special hearts to represent their cause. He had always intended to give back a portion of the proceeds to the community that supported him, including to that initial show of solidarity with frontline health-care workers. So he started by dedicating the warm white and cool white hearts — and then the pink and cyan hearts — to the Michael Garron Hospital Foundation , along with $5 from the sale of each $115 heart.

“Seeing them lit in windows across East Toronto has been deeply meaningful to our health-care heroes,” says Shannon Moon, vice-president, events and operations, for the Foundation, which has received $60,000 in contributions to date. “They feel seen and [the hearts] remind them that their efforts continue to be appreciated and that the community stands with them. With Jeff’s help, we’ve brought this sentiment inside the hospital, installing Glowing Hearts throughout to celebrate our talented team. We’re so honoured to be a part of this initiative.”
Others followed, with different colours dedicated to different organizations.

“For example, the orange heart is dedicated to Indigenous organizations, one of which is  Indspire , a charity which empowers youth by getting them financial help to attend post-secondary [school],” Moss says.

Green for the environment, red for entertainment workers

The green hearts are the “environmental heart,” with a portion of the proceeds going to the World Wildlife Fund , while red hearts continue to support unemployed live entertainment workers.

“We are very grateful for the fantastic fundraising efforts of Moss LED Inc. and their Our Glowing Hearts campaign,” says David Hope, executive director of the Actors Fund of Canada (AFC), which assists everyone in the performing arts and entertainment industries. “Their generous contributions in the past year have gone a long way in supporting the work of the AFC to assist Canadian arts workers during these exceptionally difficult times with vital support services, advocacy, and emergency financial aid.”

And the love hasn’t stopped there. Moss recently released Mini Hearts , identical in shape to the bigger hearts but half the size, with a portion of the $85 proceeds going to War Child Canada .

“We are thrilled that Jeff chose to support War Child and the vulnerable children we serve,” says Barbara Harmer, director, creative partnerships and celebrity engagement for War Child. “The Mini Hearts are a beautiful reflection of how we can light the world with love by empowering children whose lives have been devastated by war. Funds raised through the sale of the Mini Hearts will help War Child provide critical programs to war-affected children and families enabling them to look forward to brighter futures.”
Barbara’s sister, Mary Harmer, bought three Mini Hearts to benefit War Child, frontline health-care workers, and as a Valentine’s Day gift to her two daughters and husband “as a token of my love for them and to provide an example of how consumer purchasing power can make a positive difference. Plus, they’re made in Canada!”

$76,000 donated to charity so far

Other donor recipients include the Movember initiative, symbolized by a glowing cyan moustache in support of men’s health, and the Canadian Cancer Society (yellow hearts). In total, Moss has donated over $76,000 to the various charities, and hopes to add more, as well as to spread his lights into the U.S. and the U.K.

Once supply chain issues have been resolved, he plans to design a rainbow heart, which will incorporate the colours of all his hearts. Partial proceeds will support an organization called Rainbow Railroad , which helps LGBTQ people escape from their countries that threaten them for who they are.

Who would have thought a global contagion could ignite so much good?
“The pandemic is unique in that it’s focused everybody’s attention on this one challenge that we’re all facing,” says Moss. “I think there’s a lasting effect of putting a neon symbol in your window, much like putting a flag out, but in a very different sense.”
A sentiment that is truly heartfelt.
Robin Roberts is a Vancouver-based writer.
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