As Santa’s elves are busy putting the finishing touches on gifts for kids this Christmas, some local elves at St. Andrew’s College have been hard at work for a different demographic.
This week, SAC students put a final flourish on more than 2,000 gifts for local seniors collected by Neighbourhood Network.
In an ordinary year, the local organization would host a holiday show to give seniors an hour of entertainment and refreshments, along with a parting gift or two.
COVID-19, of course, has made that a considerable challenge, but Neighbourhood Network didn’t want to leave anyone behind.
Enter the young men at SAC to help them meet the needs of older community members.
More than 2,000 gifts lovingly wrapped at their Yonge Street campus will soon be making their way to members of the Aurora Seniors’ Centre, residents at local seniors’ residents, and even women seeking shelter at Belinda’s Place in Newmarket.
“Our seniors were very much looking forward to a show and are disappointed again this year, but Magna really wanted to support them,” says Tanya Dennis of Neighbourhood Network, an organization funded by Magna International. “But, since SAC is so close to us and they are a group of kids who are always looking for opportunities, it was just a perfect match.”
This view is shared by teacher Joseph Commisso who, in turn, was looking for ways his boys could become involved in Neighbourhood Network’s efforts this year.
“They brought this to our attention this year and it was something we could really get a lot of boys involved in, packing all these stockings for a variety of causes like elderly care facilities, the Salvation Army, and others,” says Commisso.
For participating students like Logan Nirenberski, it was a chance to really make a hands-on difference in the community he calls home.
“Getting that experience of helping is really good and I think part of the appeal is wanting to improve our community,” says Logan.
Adds student Cameron Veisman: “It is something meaningful and important, something that could have an impact on people before the holidays. It was something I thought I should be a part of in making a difference in people’s lives.”
As students packed the stockings and packages, they were struck by the items they were placing inside – including items as simple as hand sanitizer.
“It wasn’t what we’re giving that is special, I think it is more of making them feel loved and noticed in the community and that people actually care for them,” says Cameron. “In the grand scheme of things, things like lip balm, cookies, hand sanitizer and a candy cane are nice, but it is not something that is going to get them through the pandemic. What is going to get them through is knowing people are there for them, thinking about them, and appreciating them.”
Adds Logan: “It’s a sense of care. The whole concept of receiving a package is meant to improve their morale. The fact that they physically see people are giving them gifts and presents, we actually do care. It’s not something we’re just thinking about on the side, but there are whole groups of communities who believe they should have benefits we all get to share. It’s the thought that people still care and we want to help them.”
This new partnership between Neighbourhood Network and SAC is just one of the ways the school and its students give back to the community – and it has left them looking for more.
“We are always looking for opportunities,” says student Cody Kumm. “We’re all on the Community Service Council of our school and along with Mr. Commisso we run these events, set them up, and give opportunities for the rest of the school to help. We’re always looking through the year trying to come up with a partnership and make connections with these groups.”
COVID has hampered their goals in some ways, but Commisso says it has also provided new chances to make a difference at the same time.
“We usually do a lot of work with elderly care facilities, which is something that is just not an option right now, but in the coming months we have a big event with Prostate Cancer Canada, which we usually do a big walk in the city, and that is a pretty significant one that we’re able to give back to,” says Commisso. “Like the boys said, we try to keep it fresh and make sure we’re engaging with as many organizations as possible. We have been doing a lot of work outside as per COVID with the Aurora Arboretum and local green spaces like that. We’re always looking for new opportunities and new organizations to engage with."
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative reporter at The Auroran