What started as a simple way to give back to the organization of his youth, was transformed by Fernando and his team into an annual tradition that mobilizes an army of volunteers to deliver thousands of Christmas baskets to the city’s neediest families.
Nine years ago, when the time came to choose an organization to donate the money he and his colleagues collected, Fernando suggested Sun Youth.
“At one point, it came up that Sun Youth gave to me when I was younger and I wanted to give back to Sun Youth,” recalls volunteer and Agence de mobilité durable employee Fernando Nobrega.
When he brought the money, organizers at Sun Youth learned that Nobrega worked for a city agency which has a fleet of vehicles and asked if maybe they could also help by delivering food baskets to some of Sun Youth’s clients.
“So, we decided to start trying to help them with the deliveries. The first year that we started, we helped deliver a little bit less than 100 baskets. A couple of years later, we’re delivering over 2,000 baskets.”
– Fernando Nobrega
The 53-year-old West Islander grew up on the Plateau and remembers fondly how Sun Youth helped him when he was younger, in particular with their many subsidised sports programs, but he also remembers receiving food baskets from them.
“As a kid, Sun Youth gave me things that I never would have had, so today as an adult and a father, I realized that what Sun Youth gave me was a lot. Today, now that I know that Sun Youth is still around, I’m trying to give back for what they gave me, which was great childhood memories.”
He enjoys meeting the many people he delivers baskets to at this time of year and every family he meets reminds him of how far he’s come and how many of his fellow Montrealers are desperate for help from organizations like Sun Youth.
“When you meet the people that are here at Sun Youth, or when we go deliver to their homes, you realize how fortunate you are and how much certain people are really in need.”
– Fernando Nobrega
Fernando remembers one family recently arrived from Pakistan that he met one night when he came back late from a day of deliveries. Sun Youth was closed and the Christmas basket would have to be delivered to their home at a later date. When Fernando saw how ill-dressed the mother and her two children were for winter, he took it upon himself to get a basket for them and drive them home with it.
“When I looked at them, I could not let them go home without helping them,” he remembered. When he talked about the plight of the family later to his circle of friends, they all decided to scour their homes that weekend for things that they didn’t need and knew this family could use.
“We went and delivered clothes, boots, games, all kinds of stuff. It wasn’t part of Sun Youth, but we still took it on ourselves to go and help out and give to a family that was in need.”
“Fernando’s been such a great cheerleader and great organizer for us to have that system in place It’s really a huge contribution,” says Eric Kingsley, Sun Youth’s director of emergency services. “We’re very appreciative of the Agence de mobilité durable and all the people that make that donation work.”
Kingsley says they hope to hand out 5,000 Christmas baskets this year, which is more than double the 2,000 food baskets they hand out in a typical month, but they still need help from donors to make sure they can meet the demand.
He explained that their Christmas baskets are made up not only from donated items, but also include things bought by Sun Youth like chicken and turkey in order to complete them, but inflation is making that more difficult.
“We deal a lot with distributors and we have relationships with them, so we are not getting hit as hard as everybody else but there are still some difficult choices to make.”
While Sun Youth relies heavily on private donations, office collections and individual volunteers at this time of year, they are hoping that more food distributors step up to help.
For his part, Fernando says that even if you don’t have money or goods to donate to Sun Youth, you can always give them your time.
“I’m not asking for your money. I’m not asking for anything. I’m just giving time,” he said, adding that it makes him proud to see his own children pitching in and the children of other parents doing what they can to take the weight off someone else’s shoulders.
“That’s what it’s all about: teaching values and giving back.”
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