With Christmas right around the corner, the spirit of giving is in the air, but for Cathedral High School, that spirit runs all year.
Nestled at the back of the school, the Cathedral Annex works year-round to help those in need by providing them with food, clothing, shoes, home goods, and hope.
The idea of the Annex was formed in 2006 thanks to Educational Assistant Marilyn Pavao and former Cathedral teacher Ken John, now Vice-Principal at Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School, who decided to expand the school's existing social service programs.
Starting out in a small classroom, Pavao and John enlisted the help of staff and community members to create a functional donation centre, mirroring a small department store, complete with sections for different goods.
Open year-round to students and families within the Cathedral community, including feeder schools and individuals connected with St. Patrick's Parish, the Annex offers basic necessities at no cost.
"We realized we had to do more to support our students than by just addressing their academic needs," said John. "We had to help them even before they stepped into the classroom."
Principal Mark Daly recalled teachers going around and asking students if they had enough to eat or why they weren't wearing a coat.
"Individually, teachers would pay out-of-pocket to support their students so Ken John said 'let's get together,' and formed a committee that would meet and look for donations."
It was a collective effort of the staff working at Cathedral, said John. "Their selflessness and passion are what makes the Annex so successful in supporting individuals. I can't stress that enough."
Currently, the Annex is run by Cathedral's Educational Assistants, along with students with special needs.
"Working at the Annex teaches students life skills," said Educational Assistant Peggy Murphy. "They learn to wash and sort clothing and donations."
Murphy, who has dedicated years in coordinating the operations of the Annex, added that many of the staff involved put in overtime volunteer hours to help families within the community. Whether that be driving donations to their house, or opening the Annex after hours.
In addition to being a community with high needs, the area also has a high refugee population.
"We have refugees from war-torn places who come to Canada with nothing, especially clothing for the winter," explained teacher Darrell D'Souza.
On occasion, the Annex receives donations from larger corporations who will donate items like food and mattresses.
"One time we had a company donate 1000 pairs of shoes," recalled John.
"It was just amazing to see these refugee families come to Canada and register at Cathedral and on their first day receive clothing, a bed, furniture … things they might have to wait months for if not for the Annex."
"Every donation received goes right into the hands of students and their families that need it most," added Daly.
With winter quickly approaching, D'Souza stressed how important the Annex is for many families within the Cathedral community.
This year, however, the need for donations, especially winter coats, boots, and accessories, is greater than ever.
As soon as items come in, they leave, explained D'Souza.
Daly invites anyone interested to visit the Annex to learn more about the donating process, and to see the impact it has on the community.
"When you see it, you get it. So many people want to help."
If you have items you wish to donate, please visit Cathedral or contact Darrell D'Souza at firstname.lastname@example.org