Kari Klassen of Ant + Oak and the Hummingbird Project

A sit down with Kari Klassen – the force behind Hummingbird Project and Ant + Oak

an article by Heather Bailey

Kari Klassen’s first venture was Hummingbird Project, inspired during her first round of chemotherapy. As she was leaving a chemo treatment, she and her husband Dallas were given a list of items she would need. Shopping was the last thing on Kari’s mind – all she wanted to do was go home! Over time, Kari realized there were little things that made the rounds of treatment just a little easier. That was the spark that created Hummingbird Project.

Hummingbird Project delivers a post-treatment comfort package to individuals: soft-bristled toothbrushes, tissues, lip gloss, queasy drop candy for nausea, tea for dry mouth, lotion for dry skin, and a hand painted rock for inspiration – small soothing things to help with the side effects. Originally, distribution was through CancerCare and 50-60 gifts were distributed every month. With Covid, delivery is no longer an option and now, fewer than 10 gifts a month are provided. Stay tuned though! An alternative distribution method may be available soon.

The second and related project, Ant + Oak, has become the principal business of the company. Ant + Oak was born out of Kari’s own experience, when well-intentioned friends offered impractical gifts. Going through breast cancer doesn’t mean you love pink, and scented items can often offend already sensitive senses. Kari and Dallas were frequently asked “What should we get someone going through cancer? Where do we go?” The initial answer was “I don’t know.” The answer today is: Ant + Oak.

Visit the Ant + Oak website (antandoakgifts.ca) to shop for relevant, useful, gifts that are specifically tailored to meet the needs of someone going through cancer treatment. Great care and thought are put into the contents of each gift basket. Kari will also customize a baskets, designing it to the personality of the recipient. Ant + Oak carries radiation and chemo packages, using locally sourced items as much as possible: cards are locally made and the goats milk soap is from Au Natural. Kari has a creative side and designs the, sometimes edgy, artwork for the t-shirts and mugs, and works with ArtJoy Designs for the manufacture. She now has her own blends of tea, including some for menopause and nausea. Kari is proud to support other local businesses. She believes in both giving back and paying forward!

The business has been in operation just for a year, the anniversary marked by the time that Kari herself has been out of treatment. Dallas handles all the shipping and their two sons pitch in to help when needed. Remarkably, Ant + Oak is doing well with business from Ontario and BC, but few people locally seem to know about the company. Kari would like to see the local customer base grow.

The Klassen’s have received so many positive responses from the care packages and gift baskets. They feel that is the measure of their success is in the creation of baskets with unique, useful, and inspirational items and messages that speak to cancer fighters.

So why Ant + Oak? The meaning behind the name is simple: Ant symbolizes family and community; Oak embodies the strength and resilience of the oak tree. Similarly, Hummingbird is for hope and healing, and seeking the beauty in each day. Both names represent the mission and vision of the company.

As I look at my watch, I realize that we have been chatting for quite some time but that is the kind of person Kari is; very approachable, warm and friendly. As the interview comes to a close, I ask Kari what she sees for the business in the future. Predictably, she has more ideas: to see the company grow online; to see her products available in gift shops across the city; and to partner with other companies. She knows that help with day-to-day living means so much to those going through treatment, so a partnership with a local home cleaning service is an additional offering she is considering. The Klassen’s would like to give back a little bit more and are always interested in new ideas and potential partners. If you think you might be interested, drop them a line through their website: Ant + Oak.

Kari is not completely sure what Ant + Oak will look like as it evolves but she knows she wants people to be inspired throughout their cancer journey, and to never feel alone.

The post-Covid future for Hummingbird Project is unknown: whether it becomes a nomination service or takes some other form. The Klassen’s are always available for comment, so feel free to contact them.

My final question to Kari: If there is one thing you want people to think of when they hear the name Ant + Oak what would it be?

Her response was straight from the heart. “When someone has cancer, it is hard to know what to say and what to do for them. And that’s okay. The one thing you can do, is be there. Sometimes being there means bringing them something that helps them through it, sometimes that is all they need. The best thing you can give them is your time – above all else your time is most important. If you are struggling to find out what to do or say a thoughtful gift is a great ice breaker. For the person buying the gift, they can be assured it’s being prepared by someone who has gone through the same thing, and it will be inspiration and useful.”

For Kari, connecting with customers is the added bonus of this business: talking, sharing, and helping others in their experience. Kari always keeps the lines of communication open. Those who have purchased or received her baskets often return time and again with questions or just for a chat. Many times, the gift doesn’t just end at delivery: it keeps on giving, long after.

Find them at https://www.antandoakgifts.ca