Vanessa Rasile serves food during Bishop Allen Academy’s annual Festive Dinner which brings those less fortunate in the community together to share a meal as one big family of friends. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Students’ eyes opened to real world problems

By 
  • December 23, 2014

TORONTO - At Bishop Allen Academy’s annual charity dinner for the community Dec. 8, Vanessa Rasile was served a cocktail of emotions.

“It breaks my heart knowing that kids might not have something to eat, but it feels so great feeding them and seeing them interact with other kids and make new friendships and the parents being happy about themselves,” said Rasile, a Grade 10 student volunteer from the host school.

“I’ve been in certain situations where it is similar to the people who come to the SCOPE (Students Concerned About Oppression, Poverty and the Environment) dinner so it feels good to help out.”

For the past 15 years SCOPE, a group of 50 to 70 students, has annually welcomed those less fortunate into Bishop Allen’s cafeteria for an early Christmas dinner surrounded by friends, family and neighbours — all free of charge.

In the weeks leading up to the event the SCOPE team canvasses local businesses seeking donations of either food or supplies for the event. Starbucks and food distributor Sysco, along with a number of independent businesses, were among the donors this year.

Students turn the cafeteria into a Christmas-themed party venue with an eating area and hot food, live music and a supervised play area for the children. Rasile, a sophomore SCOPE member, said she is involved because she understands that the typical “problems” teenagers have are a lust for luxury.

“Our problems compared to theirs are really nothing because they don’t really have what we do,” said the 15-year-old. “They constantly worry about if they are going to have enough money from work to feed their family or if they are going to keep their job, but for us if we don’t have the new iPhone we get mad. We take stuff for granted.”

“The students are the ones that really propel it,” said Gerry McGilly, the supervising staff member and media teacher at Bishop Allen. “I don’t think they realize that this is charity that they are doing. They are the ones who make it not a charity thing, they just make it, ‘Come let’s spend some time together let’s have a meal together.’ ”

Typically held within the first week of December, the Festive Dinner is promoted in nearby parishes and shelters and through social service agencies. This year’s dinner drew about 200, some of whom have made it a seasonal tradition.

“I’ve been coming here for the past four years with my daughter,” said Mary Noel-Morris. “All my friends and my daughter’s friends are here. We’re all just having a good time.”

Learning that students do all of the work shocked Noel-Morris. “That is really tremendous,” she said, “and really impressive that these young kids would go out there and try to make a difference in our community to give us this wonderful dinner tonight. I do appreciate that.”

The experience has changed Rasile’s image of Christmas. “Christmas is greater than any other holiday because you come together with your community, not just your family, and you give back,” she said.

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