Community Centre 55 director Debbie Visconti credits volunteers and staff who went above and beyond all expectations for saving Christmas for almost 800 East End families.
Each year, the centre organizes its Share A Christmas campaign, which sees non-perishable food, fresh produce and a turkey or ham provided to hundreds of less fortunate families, along with toys for children and teens, and treats for pets.
December’s ice storm offered up no end of challenges on Dec. 22, the culminating day of the program, when hundreds of volunteers converge on the centre to pick up and distribute food and toys to homes throughout the East End.
“The ‘miracle on Main Street’ almost didn’t happen that day because of the ice storm,” said Visconti.
Freshco, at Victoria Park Avenue and Gerrard Street East, usually provides a tractor trailer for the produce distribution; however, the store’s power went out the previous evening, and they had no trailer available. After a last-minute scramble, staff at the store found a truck and loaded it in the dark, delivering it two hours late.
That’s around the time the power at Centre 55 cut out. Thankfully, said Visconti, the centre has a generator, so the entrance, where volunteers sign up, fill out paperwork and pick up checklists for delivery, could be lighted. The rest of the centre was in the dark, but that didn’t put a damper on the spirits of the staff, who bundled up and got to work.
Right as the trailer arrived, a small army of volunteers began to show up, despite many being without power themselves.
“Really the community did come together for us,” said Visconti.
Though the city sent a salt truck to help out – after a call from Ward 32 Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon – it wasn’t enough to cover the sidewalks and keep the ice under control. Eventually the search for salt ended with a commercial facility in the far reaches of East York.
Two police officers helped direct traffic, and even though the number of volunteer delivery drivers was lower than normal, most made extra trips, and Christmas was shared.
“We managed to get through the day, and we were able to deliver to almost 800 families. I’m grateful to everyone who came out despite their own challenges,” said Visconti. “Nothing bad happened that we couldn’t work through.”