Loretto College School teacher Vanessa Meli, back, poses with the school’s Christmas winter clothing drive organizers Jelsi Spizzirri, Melody Pavao, Beatriz Ribeiro and Taya Kant. Photo courtesy Mary DeNisco

Special needs students shine with clothing drive

By 
  • December 18, 2021

A Christmas tree adorned with scarves, gloves, toques and jackets instead of the classic bells, ornaments and ribbons is captivating plenty of eyes at the entrance of Toronto’s Loretto College School.   

While creating a bold aesthetic presentation is fun for the all-girls’ high school students and staff decorators, there is a deeper, more altruistic motive at work here.

All the warm men’s winter gear adorning this artificial Christmas tree will ultimately be donated to the non-profit Catholic organization You Are Loved Toronto, which provides prepared meals on Sundays and clothing items to people in need.

This Christmas drive has been a tradition at Loretto College for several years now, but it reached another level last year when school chaplain Mary Frances DeNisco empowered students in special needs classes taught by Stephanie Ferrante, Daniel Fiorella and Vanessa Meli to run the operation.

“They went to homerooms to tell students and staff about what we were going to do, and they would ask them to help out,” said DeNisco. “And then my friends would go collect a couple times a week and put the warm gear on the tree. Last year they did such a super job that the tree tipped over. Because of that, I changed the name of the drive to ‘Tip the Tree.’ ”

Dec. 15 was the deadline to gather all the donations. DeNisco is confident the students will accomplish their mission yet again. The efforts of the student and staff leaders — and the whole school body — were toasted with a tipping of the tree ceremony on Dec. 17, the last day before Christmas break.

Student philanthropists Jelsi Spizzirri, Melody Pavao, Beatriz Ribeiro and Taya Kant from Meli’s class shared with The Catholic Register what they enjoyed about organizing this effort that reflects the true spirit of the season. 

Kant said this endeavour was really rewarding because she “loves helping people, especially people who are less fortunate during the COVID-19 (pandemic).”

Ribeiro, concurring with her classmate, said giving items like food or clothing to “people that don’t have a bed or home can help them feel loved and healthier.”

Pavao distills her pay-it-forward philosophy into a succinct statement: “If you can give back you should give back.”

The four girls and some other peers will dismantle their creation before school is done for the Christmas break and help DeNisco package the bounty of winter clothes into donation boxes.

Spizzirri is savouring every remaining day with the tree standing tall and colourful in the school atrium.   

“It is really nice, and people really like to see the tree whenever they come in or leave the school.”

Meli beamed with pride while singing the praises of her four students.

“I have the great privilege of teaching these four young women every day. This campaign has been fabulous for all of them,” she said. “They kickstarted this effort by making public announcements, which really gave them an opportunity to showcase what they’ve got to the entire school. We have some really good saleswomen here, and it’s because of them and the fabulous Ms. DeNisco that this campaign was so successful.”

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