Building the Holiday Spirit

Last year, over 19,000 people received Christmas baskets from Sun Youth. This number will likely increase this year as things are getting worse. They need you. Your whole community needs you.

As a volunteer for Sun Youth’s food bank, Anna Stabile comes face to face with Montreal’s poverty problem every day, and what she sees are people — not statistics.

“The people that come to Sun Youth are from all walks of life,” says Anna. “There are young families with kids. There are elderly people and quite a few students.”

Anna Stabile is a retired nurse and began volunteering with Sun Youth just before the COVID-19 pandemic began. As a nurse, she forged a long career helping people, but she finds volunteering at Sun Youth to be even more rewarding.

“I was a nurse and I loved doing what I did, but it was still a job. Volunteering is different. No one is pushing you to do it,” she adds. “You’re there because you want to be.”

It’s very important for people to realize how lucky we are and how much we need to share some of that good fortune with people that have less than us.”

Many of the people she meets at Sun Youth’s food bank are newcomers to the city, often refugees who have little money, few resources and lack the necessary permits to work in Quebec.

“This can be one of their only sources of food and considering what they’re paying for rents these days, I just have a hard time believing they can make ends meet.”

– Anna Stabile

Anna says more people than ever seem to be coming to the food bank and she sees familiar faces returning to the food bank. Over time, she gets to hear their stories.

“One time, I was really touched when a mother and her two kids came back and one of them had made a little drawing for me with my name written on it saying ‘Thank you, Anna for your help with the food and clothes. You were very nice to us.’”

It isn’t Anna’s imagination that the food bank has been busier. According to Sun Youth’s last annual report, more Montrealers are being severely impacted by inflation and housing shortages. As a result, the total number of beneficiaries of the organization’s services rose by nearly a third in the last year to just under 90,000, up from 68,000 the year before.

“These are trying times, not only for the families affected by the state of economy, but also for all the amazing organizations that are trying to help the community and are at their limit,” said Ernie Rosa, Sun Youth’s interim Director of Emergency Services . “It’s very difficult for our employees and volunteers when they have to say ‘No, I’m sorry, we don’t have any winter coats left, we don’t have enough clothing.’”

Things get even busier over the holidays as Sun Youth gears up to hand out Christmas baskets. The food bank remains open seven days a week in the weeks leading up to the holidays and long-time volunteers like Stabile help company groups and other individuals who come in to help with the increased demand.

“It’s an extremely busy time of year, but the food bank is very much full of life, full of music and full of a lot of happy people,” says Stabile. “Sometimes it can get overwhelming, but you see the joy that you bring to them.”

– Anna Stabile

Without its volunteers, Sun Youth would not be able to deliver any of its major programs or special activities to benefit the community, says Ernie Rosa. In the past year, more than 2,000 volunteers provided a total of 36,254 hours to the organization. This volunteer time has a value of more than half a million dollars.

“We would not be able to serve the people that we serve if we didn’t have a great core of dedicated volunteers like Anna that are coming in every week,” says Ernie. 

“During the Christmas period, we have a whole bunch of companies that come in and help, and we need that, but it’s ex-professionals like Anna who give us those hours every week that take it to another level.”

Anna’s motivation for volunteering is simply to share some of her own good fortune with others. She thinks many Montrealers don’t realize how good they have it.

“Last year, over 19,000 people received Christmas baskets from Sun Youth,” Anna says. “This number will likely increase this year as things are getting worse. They need you. Your whole community needs you.”

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