Kathryn Oswin-Groh (left in Santa hat) and Michelle Perkins-Ball (far right) lead the St. Oscar Romero Secondary School Share Christmas campaign. The annual campaign brings the spirit of Christmas into the community. Photo courtesy St. Oscar Romero Secondary School

Tears fall as graces flow from students

  • December 13, 2023

Emotion filled the eyes of Kathryn Oswin-Groh and Michelle Perkins-Ball throughout their joint interview with The Catholic Register as the educators at Toronto’s St. Oscar Romero Catholic Secondary School shared how they have become better people because of the school’s annual Share Christmas community outreach campaign, a tradition.  

“I’m going to cry,” said Oswin-Groh, the head of the English and languages department. “I will tell you that it has fundamentally changed who I am as an individual and mother. I started this (initiative) before I got married and had children. Being a part of this at Romero has brought the focus of charity into my family. I started doing things with my children. My daughter, who is now 22, still delivers Santa Claus boxes.”

Perkins-Ball, the school chaplain for nearly a decade, affectionately called Oswin-Groh “the O.G. — the original girl, not gangsta” — of the Share Christmas endeavour, which began with a food drive to one depot in the neighbourhood way back in 1989. The scope of this crusade of holiday cheer has expanded dramatically in the decades since its inception. 

From Dec. 11 to 18, St. Oscar Romero staff and students again radiated the spirit of Christmas, both at their school and throughout the City of Toronto, with some 110 students volunteering their time at The Salvation Army’s York Community Church, helping families in need pick out good Christmas toys for their children.

Between 200 and 300 students spread merriment with letters distributed to various care centres, seniors’ homes and shelters in the area.

Giulio De Santis and his construction technology education class will host the eighth annual Romero Ornament Building Workshop on Dec. 18 at Our Lady of Victory, St. Nicholas of Bari, St. Bernard’s and Santa Maria Catholic Schools. More than 500 Grade 1 to 3 students will paint and decorate the ornaments De Santis’ students built for them to take home. 

“This is our way of showcasing the Construction technological education courses and the Construction (Specialist High Skills Major) program at Romero to our surrounding community,” wrote De Santis in an email. “Plus, it gives our students the opportunity to give back and meet new people during this very special time of year.”

Homerooms at the school also have an opportunity to volunteer to adopt a family supported by Romero House, a non-profit supporting newly arrived refugee families in Toronto. Classes will fundraise to purchase specific in-need items like hats, gloves, mitts, diapers, wipes, formula and more for their adopted family. 

This level of benevolence is truly commendable. The generous spirit of this school community is even more remarkable because of what Oswin-Groh and Perkins-Ball recently learned during a school department head meeting.

“We found out that our school was the third neediest school in the (Toronto Catholic District School Board) socioeconomically,” said Oswin-Groh. “This is based on statistics from family incomes. The fact that our kids are doing all this service and outreach when they come from homes where they don’t have much, I think, says a lot.”

Perkins-Ball was moved to tears speaking about the St. Oscar Romero community’s selfless giving. She particularly appreciates the indelible imprint newcomer students have made on the school. “For me, to see the beautiful generosity of these students, who have come from places to Canada and understand what it’s like to work hard and have need, has profoundly impacted me so much. I recognize more and more about what is truly important. They are beautiful. And they are not fake in any way. They are so real.

“Some have come from war-torn countries where there is still war,” continued Perkins-Ball. “Some of our students have come from places where their parents were medical doctors or professionals, and they have to come here and clean toilets, drive a taxi or can’t even get a job. They remain so humble, generous and kind. They are the role models.”

St. Oscar Romero staff are fundraising to purchase grocery cards for Romero school families most in need. The teachers, administrators and support staff are raising money by hosting a silent auction and holding a waffle/bake sale, among other endeavours. The school hosts a food drive annually, and families have received some of the dividends while others went to a nearby food bank. 

With the help of family profiles sent to Perkins-Ball by the neighbourhood’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, the proceeds can anonymously reach families in need. 

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