Christina Sotrillis isn’t teaching her young students anything she hasn’t taught her own children.
The French and Greek preschool teacher at École Socrates-Démosthène’s Roxboro campus says learning gratitude is an important life lesson. “It’s a lesson I always speak to them about, about privilege,” says the Laval resident. “When children watch you give, they grow up knowing that it’s something that comes naturally, and they will always be grateful. When they learn that it’s just so beautiful.”
Sotrillis’ young charges – ages 3-5 – already know what it means to make a conscious decision to part with something they love to benefit another human being. Her class, like every class at the Roxboro Socrates campus, just celebrated its fourth year of the Adopt a Family project, a school-wide initiative that teaches the value of giving and involves everyone.
“Essentially each class adopts a family,” principal Christos Filandrianos told The Suburban. Working with Maison Bleue’s Parc Extension team, the administration is given coordinates of families in Parc Ex dealing with poverty, health issues, family separations and more, along with very detailed lists of specific needs. It could be a single parent struggling to put food on the table or warm boots on her children, or a family with a sick parent who is unable to provide.
For almost a month every year, students, parents, teachers and other staff get to work in support of these families. It’s all very discreet, and recipient families only know that a school group will deliver some items to them in mid-December.
Each family can easily receive two carloads full of goods, and it’s not just a bunch of cans in a box says Filandrianos. “No it’s a very specific list” that can include baby supplies, food items mindful of dietary or religious restrictions, children’s clothing in specific sizes and much more. Many students’ families will bring in cases of food, loads of gently worn and new clothing, and gift cards. “A lot of gift cards,” says Filandrianos, “several thousands of dollars’ worth.”
Gift cards are targeted for local stores, mindful of the recipient’s challenges. Indeed, for disadvantaged families often with no access to childcare, a shopping trip is no mere jaunt in the car to a mall, but rather a trek on foot, bus rides, long waits and hauling with kids in tow. “We know most if not all of these families rely on public transit as their only means of transportation and we want to make it as easy as possible for them to get what they need, especially during a pandemic.”
“I talk to my students,” says Sotrillis, “and ask them if there’s something that they really enjoy playing with, and if they would consider letting another child have it to enjoy. It’s hard for them to give up a toy they enjoy but they think about it and you’d be surprised how quickly they decide that yes, they will bring something from home to give to another child.” Even she says, a child they will never meet.
“It’s important for them to know and learn that of course, life is not always about us.” It’s the Greek way, philotimo; unconditional generosity, honour and hospitality.
For a lot of the kids in the Socrates-Démosthène family says Filandrianos, “this helps them understand that not everyone is as lucky or privileged to have a full table, a full fridge, or get to take vacations.” The effort expands their horizons, makes them realize how interconnected they all are. “It’s easy to do” adds Sotrillis, “just show them and they respond.”
Indeed, the whole school family gets on board with palpable energy as people flock to the school to bring much anticipated items and generosity for their recipients. The 200-plus students and some 50 parents and staff accumulate the goods over several weeks, triaged at the school to ensure efficient distribution before the big day, when a convoy of cars rolls up to the school and loads up for the big delivery.
The Socrates-Démosthène school community, some 1200 students from Pre-K to high school in five campuses in Laval, Montreal, the West Island and South Shore, represent a century-old tradition of excellence and pursues a whole host of philanthropic initiatives throughout the year. For its part, the Socrates Roxboro campus parents came up with the adopt-a-family idea almost five years ago.
There are no high fives and hugs with recipients this year, but there are a lot of waves, smiles and even some tears. “You cannot forget the human element” says Filandrianos. “This is what we tell our children. There is no excuse not to help.” Indeed says Sotrillis, whose own teenaged daughter was moved by the reaction of one small child receiving a gift of clothing and toys.
“‘All this is for me?’ she asked, with tears in her eyes. ‘Really all of this is for me?’
It was amazing.”