The eight of them were preparing a surprise. One woman filled a cupboard with cans of food. A young man put bulbs on a Christmas tree.
In a bedroom, a pair of women twisting Allen key assembled an Ikea bed frame. A couple of guys lifted a massive 1990s vintage big-screen TV onto a stand, chuckling at the intense weight of it.
The staff at the Youth Services Department sponsor a family for Christmas every year, providing gifts for the children, and turkey dinner with all the trimmings.
This year demanded something even more.
This Christmas, the person in need was one of their own – a teenage boy who volunteers with them at the Greg Moore Youth Centre.
He and his mother had been evicted from their apartment in the middle of December. They were given shelter by local social service agencies, while the mom searched for a new place, and new furniture.
Youth Services staff knew immediately who their Christmas family would be.
“He is an awesome, awesome kid,” said Richard Bosma, and gave the example about how the young man would help a senior couple who lived in his old building – walking their dog, carrying their groceries, and indulging the old man’s love of chess by providing an opponent.
“He saw the need, and helped out. That personifies who he is,” said Bosma.
He brought the same giving spirit to the youth centre, and everyone appreciated it.
“When they got evicted, they were in dire straits,” said Bosma.
The staff determined to adopt the family this Christmas, but kept their plans a secret from the boy and his mother.
“The moment picked us, more than anything,” said Tony Cotroneo, recreation manager for youth services. “We had a family bordering on homelessness.”
The staff scoured social media and other sources looking for furniture for sale. They found couches, chairs, two televisions, a kitchen table and chairs, entertainment unit and the rest of what they would need to furnish an apartment.
They asked the boy and his mom to meet them at the Haney Place Mall, to have a photo taken with Santa. The last time they had done that, he was about nine years old, but by coincidence they got the same Santa.
Some of the Youth Services people kept them busy, while back at the apartment the elves were putting the finishing touches on the new place.
They hooked an X-Box up to the giant television, and made the bed. New clothes went into the closet.
They set up ornaments, hung family photos on the walls, and opened a box of chocolates and laid it on the coffee table.
Under the Christmas tree was a giant stocking, a guitar case and an impressive assortment of wrapped presents.
“He couldn’t be more deserving of the gifts he’s getting,” remarked Bosma.
The new picture with Santa went into a frame, and onto the wall.
Then came the sound of the key at the door. The boy saw everyone, and his new place, and was in awe.
“Welcome to your new place,” someone said.
The mom and covered her face as the tears came.
The boy was speechless.
“This is … wow. Never in a million years …” she said. “You guys have no idea … Bless you all.”
They walked through the place, she saw the boy’s room with the big TV.
“Oh my God – man cave,” she said.
Sitting on his bed, he said, “I’m home. For once in my life, I’m home.”
Barely composed, the mother reflected on how much the Youth Services staff have changed her son, helping him go from a shy kid to an upstanding young man.
She was amazed by what they gave her and her son this Christmas.
“To lose all hope, and not know where to turn, and have all these people you’ve never met do all this … It restores your faith.”