The idea took root at the dinner table.
"Our family always exchanges stories we read from the news, social media, friends during our meals together," recalls Nicole Lo, mom of two. "One summer night, Nathan mentioned about what he read from Instagram that the local food bank required more food during the pandemic."
The conversation set the wheels in motion for Grade 9 student, Nathan Lo.
"I followed Daily Bread Food Bank on social media and knew that it faced a rising demand as many Torontonians lost their jobs due to COVID-19," Nathan recounts from that discussion early into the pandemic. "I felt so grateful that I still have food on the table daily. I chatted with my sister and we decided to do something to help our community."
Nathan, who is 14, and his younger sister Audrey hatched a plan.
"We started a food drive called Denlow Cares which collected non-perishable food in our neighbourhood before Thanksgiving," says Nathan. "My sister and I sent flyers to our neighbours during our daily walk with our parents in August. We were hoping to raise 100 pounds of food."
The cause was particularly close to Nathan's heart.
"I was a scout for five years and we volunteered at a local food bank on a Saturday every month," says Nathan. "I vividly remembered those tense faces of food bank users getting relaxed after they received the food bank supplies," he says.
"Both my husband and I thought it was a good summer project for a great cause," adds mom Nicole. "The two kids wrote a to-do list, divided the work, hosted work/family meetings, assigned tasks and roles with timelines. This duo partnered doing Samaritan's Purse Shoebox in the past few years, so it was another great initiative for both to do together again!"
And there was more.
"My mom loves to quilt and she has fabric stashes and a sewing machine at home," continues Nathan. "We helped her to make some fabric masks for our friends and family during the onset of COVID when masks were scarce. I am no stranger to the sewing machine as I learned how to use one when I was in Grade 7 at SMCS, sewing my wallet which I am still using!. As a small token of appreciation, we sent reusable fabric masks handmade by our family!"
Their collective efforts paid off.
"We raised about 250 pounds of food in our neighbourhood," says Nathan, more than double the goal.
"We ended our food drive in September but there was more food coming in," he says, admitting to being surprised by how the initiative unfolded.
"Other than higher than expected turnouts from our neighbours, I learned that kindness can be ‘contagious’ too," says Nathan, who is also a Student Ambassador and part of the Computer Science and Badminton clubs at SMCS. "We got to know a lot more neighbours during those walks and some of them spread our word to other neighbours, therefore our turnout was much higher than we thought. Living in an older neighbourhood, quite a few seniors who are 70+ years old supported us with heavy loads of food. We are grateful and honestly touched seeing that.”
“We dropped our food at a contactless drive-thru event at the Daily Bread Food Bank this past Thanksgiving. It was a creative and fun event!"
The project was an eye-opener for mom too!
"I am impressed with the empathy they have for people who are in need," says Nicole. “They are happy that they can help our community and give. They not only learned how to liaise with the food bank, set up promotional flyers, thank you cards, plan and execute a project, but also got to know many more neighbours who we had never met before being in the same neighbourhood for a decade. I guess this is the silver lining to COVID."
Nathan is no stranger to service. He helps his dad and uncle make soup and sandwiches at home and then delivers them to the homeless and others in need at a downtown church every Father's Day. COVID-19 cancelled that ritual for the family this year.
Nathan has already started planning next year's Thanksgiving food drive.
For now, the family's first food drive is the gift that keeps giving.
"We have been getting more food donations since a few of our neighbours and friends have asked us to make more reusable fabric face masks for them to give away as Christmas gifts," continues Nathan. "We have raised another 100 pounds of food at home which we are going to make the second round of drop-offs before Christmas time."
For Nathan's mom, the apples don't fall far from the trees.
"SMCS teaches Goodness, Discipline, and Knowledge," says Nicole. "The goodness is steeped in the boy’s day-to-day values. I have heard from Nathan that he enjoys going to the Teacher Advisory Group (TAG) sessions which foster wellness and team-building skills. These all came in handy when Nathan organized this initiative for such a good cause!"