Fr. Eduardo de Oliveira Paixao with members of the St. Anthony’s Parish Youth Group before heading out to serve lunches in downtown Toronto. Photo courtesy Margaret Vieira

Giving back starts early at St. Anthony’s

  • April 6, 2024

Youth from St. Anthony’s Parish in Toronto’s west end have put their humility and generosity on full display as they take to downtown streets to help the city’s less fortunate. 

The recently established youth group at St. Anthony’s, located on Bloor Street West near Dufferin, has been taking on initiatives to help the less fortunate in the area. Although the parish has had different iterations of youth-led initiatives over the years, the current team is still in its infancy after forming in 2023. 

“I was in a youth group at St. Anthony’s when I was a teenager actually,” said Margaret Vieira, the group’s leader. “I was always telling my daughter that the youth group is so much fun and that we always did so many things for the church. She had said to me: ‘Well, why don’t you start one again then?’ ” 

Vieira did exactly that, sparking a fresh calling for youth looking to help their community. A year in, the small group of around eight members aged 12-17 is already making a difference. One way is through an initiative where the youth provide lunches to the homeless population downtown, an idea inspired by the weekly routine of parishioner Steve De Quintal, a teacher at St. Mary Catholic Academy. 

“Steve tries to go out once a month on Sundays after church (to feed those in need). I thought that’d be something great that the youth could participate in because they need to learn to give back,” Vieira said. 

A test run saw the group make 50 sandwich bags, complete with juice boxes, granola bars and a handwritten note of hope in each. After just 20 minutes of service on Queen Street, the group was shocked to have handed out all 50 lunches so quickly. 

Seeing the overwhelming need firsthand, the kids were adamant about making the lunch service a staple of the parish’s offering to the community. 

“We weren’t even back home yet, we were still getting on the subway to head back and the kids said: ‘Hey, when can we do this again?’ ” Vieira said.

Since the first service, St. Anthony’s youth group has begun including new socks with each lunch after observing an overwhelming need for warm clothing and footwear. At its outing on March 3, the team handed out 120 lunch bags while putting extra emphasis on the hand-written letters of hope and encouragement.

“We had someone open the lunch in front of us where the note read something along the lines of ‘your situation is tough but you are stronger.’ The person read that and told us they needed to hear that today,” Vieira recalled. “It had a huge impact on our youth and they’re always asking me when are we going to do it again, when can we go back out and when can we make more sandwiches. It just really makes them realize how fortunate we are.” 

Parents of group members chip in to provide certain provisions, but the youth have been holding bake sales to raise funds as well. 

Perhaps the biggest support comes from pastor Fr. Eduardo de Oliveira Paixao, whose personal involvement and relationship with participants has ignited a passion for social work and faith formation within the group. 

“It is a blessing having a pastor who is so involved, who comes downtown with us and spends time speaking with the homeless. Every time the youth and I brainstorm events, the first thing they ask me is: ‘Can Fr. Eduardo join us?’ ” Vieira said.

The next lunchtime handout is tentatively scheduled for May 4 and the group plans to make it a monthly event.

The team is also holding a sock drive, planning a car wash and a priests vs. youth basketball fundraiser this summer, as well as organizing a bake sale in June to raise funds to sponsor a child through Chalice.

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