This article was written by Danielle Milley and originally featured in Inside Toronto.
The chaos and crowd at the Ellesmere Community Centre Thursday, Dec. 22, morning was on par with any shopping mall three days before Christmas.
The hundreds of people gathered at the centre were volunteers participating in Project Engagement’s annual Christmas Care: Christmas Cheer event founded by Scarborough Centre Councillor Michael Thompson and entrepreneur Vince Gasparro.
“This is an opportunity for families in the community to give back to those who are less fortunate,” Thompson said. “There are many people who are not able to enjoy all the things we take for granted during the holidays.”
The volunteers worked with assembly-line precision filling boxes with non-perishable foods, containers with enough meat for weeks, and reusable bags with a roasting pan and a bag of potatoes.
More than 300 volunteers from local schools and the community, along with firefighters, paramedics and police officers worked filling the boxes that would be delivered later that day to families in need all across the city.
Families would receive the food baskets that included macaroni and cheese, soup, bread, sugar, juice, rice, pasta, fresh produce such as tomatoes, bananas and mushrooms, and a turkey, a chicken, and ribs – enough to last nearly a month.
Some of the food is donated, but most of it is purchased with money raised by Project Engagement through such initiatives as a golf tournament.
The event has grown considerably since it’s inception.
The first year they helped 40 families, Thompson said, “five years later we’re helping more than 300 families.”
They connect with the families through community volunteers, religious organizations and social service agencies.
This was Melissa So’s fourth year volunteering (she missed last year).
“It’s a great opportunity to give back throughout the holiday season,” she said. “It’s so hard to find time during the year.”
She usually brings her younger sister along to help, but she’s still in school so couldn’t come this year. There were lots of other volunteers to take up the slack.
“This year is one of the best yet. Every year it seems it gets better. There are more volunteers and food to give,” So said.
Behind her were drums of food collected at a variety of different local food drives.â?¨”It’s a good feeling at the end of the day,” she said.
The other volunteers were there for the good feeling too, but the firefighters, EMS and police were also having a bit of a friendly competition to see who could get out the most volunteers.
About 50 firefighters were on site giving back.
“It’s important because we’re members of the community and we’re employees of the city and we’re trying to do our part,” said Jim Brebin.
“It’s something that a lot of people should do.”
This was the firefighter’s first year volunteering at the event.
“It gives people a warm feeling,” Brebin said. “Anytime you give, it gives you a satisfying feeling.”