POWER OF ONE
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