Mikayla Portelli of Brampton, Ont., donated over $16,000 of health and beauty products to girls in impoverished countries around the world via the Canadian Food for Children warehouse in Mississauga. Portelli, assisted by high school teacher Dennis Buonafede, was spurred into action by the life story of Fides, a young girl from Zambia. Photo courtesy CFFC

Brampton teen empowers the princess inside girls

  • September 30, 2020

When 17-year-old Mikayla Portelli visited the Canadian Food for Children (CFFC) warehouse in Mississauga, Ont., with schoolmates in February, two framed pictures of a young girl from Zambia drew her gaze.

The first image captures a candid moment of an eight-year-old Fides, dressed in simple rags, tasting an unseen treat spread over a leaf — Cheez Whiz, according to CFFC chaplain Brian Finnamore. The second picture shows Fides — a name meaning “good faith” in English — roughly four years later in 2016, posing alongside Dr. Andrew Simone, a co-founder of the non-profit organization driven to support impoverished children around the globe.

Portelli, a 2020 graduate of Cardinal Leger Secondary School, was heartened by the story of the generosity of the Catholic nuns in Fides’ village. They nourished the young girl with a meal each day (her parents were not well). She was also touched by the gifts Fides chose when Simone treated her to presents at a nearby market during his second visit, which went a long way in her decision to lend a helping hand to CFFC.

“She ended up choosing some nail polish and some scented hand cream for her birthday, gifts she wasn’t able to have that made her feel good,” said Portelli. “That is why the donations I decided to make were largely feminine products.”

Bequeathing health and beauty commodities to CFFC made perfect sense to Portelli, who works in the cosmetics section at Shoppers Drug Mart in Brampton. She enlisted store owner Kal Chauhan, colleagues, friends and family to donate products such as shampoos, makeup, nail polish, protein powder, basic baby supplies and more.

More than $13,000 in goods was delivered to the CFFC warehouse by Portelli in June for shipping to many different countries, including Africa, El Salvador and Jamaica.

“We don’t usually get this type of stuff very often,” said Finnamore, who is also chaplain for the Dufferin-Peel District Catholic School Board. “We get food, medical supplies and sometimes toys or school supplies. We don’t get cosmetics very often, so it was a miracle, it was beautiful and over and above. I could see the hand of God at work.”

Simone struck a significant chord with Portelli when he told her and her peers that Fides, just like all teenage girls in Canada, desires to look and feel beautiful.

“Everyone deserves to feel special because we all are created special by God,” said Portelli, and she hopes the recipients of the donations will feel empowered.

“In a way receiving these gifts can offer a bit of an escape to the tragedy and (misfortune) happening around them. It allows them to feel like a girly-girl and can help them feel more confident.”

Finnamore admits he viewed the fashion and beauty industry through a bit of a critical lens, but then he reflected upon his days as a secondary school student.

“No one wants to be dressed in rags or feel dirty,” he said.

“These kids see movie stars on television wearing nail polish, and they know wearing some would make them feel good. God created us good.”

Portelli, now a nursing student at Fanshawe College in London, Ont., dropped off a second delivery in August consisting of $3,000 in products, and intends to donate clothes in the next few weeks.

Portelli said she is blessed to have been born with a desire to serve. The young Catholic devoted time to many different causes, most notably ParaSport Ontario. Picking nursing as her post-secondary major was also motivated by altruism as she intends to use her expertise to provide aid in less fortunate countries.

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