Contributed by Anita Bostok — Back in the 1980s, a friend dared Carlos Carreiro to take a dance class. Up for the challenge, he went to the class that he found enjoyable, but it was the attractive young dance teacher Colette who caught his eye. Carlos’s dance career did not last long, but his relationship with Colette is still going strong. The Carreiros, who have been married for 37 years, are often seen walking around their beloved Cabbagetown neighbourhood. They enjoy spending time with their two grown children and extended family, going to the theatre, socializing and laughing with friends, and giving back to their community.
For the past fifteen years, the Carreiros have been champions of St Anne’s Food Bank, often recruiting Cabbagetown neighbours to donate food or money or volunteer their time. I first learned about the food bank six years ago when Colette, my friend and neighbour from across the street, asked if I could roast and donate a turkey for the annual Christmas dinner. I agreed. On the day of the feast, I dropped the roast off in the church basement. In the festively decorated hall, I saw food bank clients filing in while volunteers donning Santa hats and Christmas sweaters sang carols. St Anne’s Food Bank gave each household gift bags filled with goodies supplied by local drives and presents to the children. The clients, many for whom this would be the only holiday celebration, were happy and grateful. But this success did not happen overnight.
The Carreiros resurrected the food bank after a client-run version had failed. Carlos had experience serving on the Fort York Food Bank board, so he knew what to expect. Colette, eager to pitch in, helped organize client processing. There were twenty clients that first morning, and all went smoothly. Donations to the food bank were sparse until receiving food from Second Harvest (they were on a waitlist for two years). During that time, the Carreiros began Saturdays with a coffee at Lettieri, followed by a trip to Weston Bakery to buy bread to donate, then on to the church to open the food bank.
Pre-pandemic, St Anne’s food bank served 150-180 households per week, with volunteers taking clients through the provisions to choose their food. Clients come from every walk of life. A high percentage of food insufficient people suffer from addiction and mental health issues, and many others are seniors, single mothers, and refugees. Initially, some clients behaved aggressively, but until they established a sense of community, the Carreiros and the volunteers kept a strong front that the food bank was a safe place. Clients then anticipated the weekly visits to socialize, drink coffee, and eat snacks while awaiting their turns.
This year is different. The food bank is open, but due to Covid restrictions, clients can no longer assemble in the hall. Bags of food are pre-packed, so no choice is offered. There will be no Christmas dinner to serve clients hot meals. There is another change. Carlos has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Once he begins chemo, he won’t be able to come to the food bank. Colette will also stay away to look after him. After years of trial and error, and with many experienced volunteers on hand, the food bank will continue running smoothly. St Anne’s Food Bank will be the same in many respects, but the big heart central to the operation will be taking a break for now.