Toronto Star



Judy Rogers never had her own Christmas tree — until this year.

For the first time she can remember 53-year-old Judy Rogers has a Christmas tree.

When neighbour and community advocate Amal Kanafani set up a “wish box” in the lobby of their housing complex at 200 Wellesley St. E., in St. James Town, she found among the requests for love, companions­hip and a Barbie that can fly, a slip of paper from Rogers with a wish for her first tree.

That was a wish Kanafi could deliver.

“This year must be special for everyone and everyone must be happy,” says Kanafi, who got the tree from a generous donor.

Rogers raised two children singlehand­edly in the St. James Town neighbourh­ood and could never afford to splurge for a holiday tree. That corner of the living room where the tall tree now stands was always empty.

Rogers imagines she may have had a tree as a child growing up in Trinidad, but never for her own kids in Toronto.

This Christmas, she’ll share it with her eight grandchild­ren and one great grandchild.

“My grandkids will be here so that will be good for them. I’ve never had one before, so I have a chance with one now,” she says.

Though there are 700 units at 200 Wellesley, the city’s largest public-housing highrise, it still manages to feel close knit to Rogers — especially when neighbours like Kanafani come around.

“She helps out a lot of people in the neighbourh­ood,” says Rogers. “She’s like family.”

Kanafani moved to Toronto as a Syrian refugee in 2013 and founded the neighbourh­ood outreach group Auntie Amal Community Centre earlier this year.

She helped refurnish 600 apartments that were still low on furniture after a fire displaced 1,200 residents in 2010, and put out the “wish box.”

“Most people are living on a low income, or on welfare,” she says. She wanted this year to be different — special.

“I’ve been through a lot of problems in my life,” says Rogers, whose apartment was spared the year of the 2010 fire but lost everything in a contained fire in her unit four years later. But things are looking up. She recently completed a women’s baking program with the Fred Victor organizati­on and hopes to start working part-time soon.

This week, Kanafani and neighbours in Santa hats helped decorate her tree and brought gifts for Rogers to give her grandchild­ren, including a puzzle of the Toronto skyline.

This weekend, Rogers is ready to admire the family’s first tree, its golden tinsel, red bulbs and gleaming snowflakes, with her grandkids.

“I’ve got everything I want now,” she says. Jonathan Forani

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 ?? CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR ?? Judy Rogers and her first Christmas tree.
CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR Judy Rogers and her first Christmas tree.

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