TORONTO – Christmas Day 2013 for Felecia White and Josh Lundrigan was spent in the ICU of a local hospital with their family, praying that the life of White’s young stepfather Jamie Froman be spared after he suffered a brain aneurysm. But on Christmas night Froman passed away, leaving his loved ones in a state of absolute despair.
This year, as the one year anniversary of Froman’s passing approached, 21-year old White wanted to do something that would honour the life of her stepfather. Froman had loved Christmas and he wholeheartedly and enthusiastically exuded the Christmas spirit during his life. He had always been known to be giving – anytime he bought something new, he would donate his used items.
Based on this, White and Lundrigan had the idea to give Christmas presents to the homeless of Toronto. They knew this was something that Froman would have loved. White and Lundrigan also recognized that they needed to try to create happy Christmas memories for their family, because focusing on the tragedy was just too painful.
The couple were given a donation of $420 towards their project, plus they acquired 31 sweaters, 13 winter coats, five blankets, three small coats, seven pairs of jeans, six pairs of track pants, 22 long-sleeved shirts, 17 t-shirts, five pairs of boots and five pairs of shoes through donations. With the donated items, White says they tried to make the gifts as “even as possible” such as putting more than one sweater in gifts that did not have a winter coat.
The donated money was used to purchase additional items and goodies to add. The duo was able to create 25 gifts, each containing two toothbrushes, a toothbrush carrying case, a tube of toothpaste, three bars of soap, insulated socks, insulated gloves, a balaclava, two lighters and two boxes of matches in additional to the big ticket items.
They loaded up their truck on Christmas Eve and hit the streets of Toronto to play Santa for the night, parking their truck for about an hour in each location and approaching people who were obviously living on the streets. They kept this going from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m., relocating to another location every hour to ensure they gave the bundles to a wide range of people. In preparation for the event, Lundrigan had taken the time to speak to numerous people living in the streets of Toronto, who had suggested this approach, rather than going through a homeless shelter.
White described the experience as very rewarding. She said that at one stop, they saw a man that was already asleep. They covered him with a blanket and left him a few wrapped gifts. She said that when they drove by later, they saw that the man was still snuggled in his blanket, digging through his presents.
At another area, they walked by a group of people on mattresses under a bridge. The group saw White and Lundrigen with presents in their hands, and one man joked, “Are those for me?”
“I think they thought we were just walking by. That man almost started crying when we gave them the presents. I told him, you better promise me you won’t open them until tomorrow,” White says. Sure enough, when they passed by again at 2 a.m., she saw that the group still had their wrapped presents sitting beside them.
This initiative was so emotionally rewarding for White and Lundrigen that they intend to do it again every year. Hearing the stories of the young couple playing Santa lifted the hearts of White’s grieving family and she has had numerous offers of help for this initiative next year.