Teenager brings holiday joy and hot meals to people in need
Fourteen-year-old Annalysa Di Genova is feeling busy. She’s in the basement of the Madonna Di Pompei Catholic Church with about 20 other volunteers, mostly young people, packing food.
“The hardest thing is finding people,” she says. “Last year we had 50 or 60 but this year we’re not sure how many we will have. We try to get as many people as possible.”
They were in the middle of preparing lunches for Montreal’s homeless, a tradition she started many years ago.
“I started when I was five years old.”
She had seen a man asking for money while she was out with her father, around Christmas time. When he told her that he was homeless and didn’t have anything to eat, she asked that they get him food.
“And I felt good about it and felt grateful, so I continued and continued, and this year our goal is 1, 400 meals.”
Annalysa’s father, Febo Di Genova, who is struggling to keep up with the other volunteers at the church because of an illness, smiles. He says the thing that really touched him was something she told him that first time.
“(She said) ‘Daddy, it’s Christmas for them, too.’ That’s when I realized that this was going to be a project for her,” he said.
The food is donated by individuals, stores and various charity organizations. Each meal consists of sandwiches, water and a hot meal which includes pasta or meat pie, cooked in the church kitchen. They collect clothes as well socks and blankets. Once everything is assembled, which Annalysa says can take up to five hours, they begin distribution.
“We go by car downtown and give the items to people that we see,” she says. “My dad knows a few places where people hang that are homeless. We also bring them to the homeless centres.”
Febo says words can’t express how proud he is that his daughter has kept up the project for so long. He says he planted the seed early by taking her to church, but allowing her to make her own choices.
“No matter what your religion or denomination, teach the kids how grateful they need to be, for what we have and others don’t.”
Annalysa says that the thanks she gets from the people she gives to is enough. “When they say ‘thank you’ it’s the best thank you, you can ever get.”
She says she plans to do this for the rest of her life.
“I love to help others, and this is my way of saying thank you to the world.”
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