Cleft Palate Charity Under Fire for Insensitive Mailer: 'What If Every Day Felt Like Halloween?'

"Their mailer just continued to perpetuate that [she is] a monster," said Jess O'Connell, who's daughter was born with a cleft lip.

A charity organization’s mailer to raise funds for children with cleft lip and cleft palate has left parents furious after they say the campaign is instead poking fun at them.

Among photos of children with cleft palates displayed across the mailer was the question, “What if every day felt like Halloween? You have the power to put an end to their nightmare.”

The mailer was a way for Smile Train, a nonprofit organization that subsidizes or gives away correction surgeries for cleft-affected children, to raise money for their latest campaign.

But Jess O’Connell, 30, of Parker, Colo., told that she is offended the organization could portray someone like her own 2-year-old daughter in that light.

“Their mailer just continued to perpetuate that [she is] a monster,” O’Connell said. “The message came across as very insensitive and it hurt a lot of people, including myself.”

She said she discovered her daughter, Olivia, would be born with a cleft lip when she was 21 weeks pregnant.

At 3 months old, Olivia underwent her first correction surgery.

“Ultimately, it seemed scarier than it was," O’Connell said. “She fought all the way through it and she’s a strong little girl. It’s definitely not ideal or the easiest situation having a baby with this condition, but she was able to thrive as a baby.”

O’Connell said that after her daughter was born, she encouraged her friends and family to donate to different organizations that raise money for cleft-affected conditions, like Smile Train.

And that's why she and many others in the cleft-affected community are infuriated by their latest campaign.

“The Smile Train ad is exactly what is stigmatized and perpetuated in society,” she said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to portray a community in that way. They seemed so misguided in their message.”

Smile Train has since apologized for the mailer.

“We are truly sorry that the mailing was offensive and hurtful, and we understand the reaction it caused. 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,” the company’s CEO Susannah Schaefer said in a statement to