Montreal

'She's an angel': Montreal teen hands out food, supplies to city's homeless

For some, the holidays are a time to give gifts to friends and family. For Annalysa Di Genova, it's a time to give gifts to strangers in need — the gift of food, clothing and supplies.

Christmas tradition dates back a decade, when Annalysa Di Genova was just 5 years old

Annalysa Di Genova, along with her father Febo Di Genova, has been collecting donations and preparing meals for Montreal's homeless population every year for a decade. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

For some, the holidays are a time to give gifts to friends and family. For Annalysa Di Genova, it's a time to give gifts to strangers in need — the gift of food, clothing and supplies.

The Christmastime tradition started when the 15-year-old Montrealer was only five.

One day, she and her dad bought some bagels at a local shop. Just outside, she spotted a homeless man.

"I was like, 'Okay, can I just give him, like, my bagel?'" Annalysa said.

"And he was like, 'No we're just going to buy him something.' Then we saw another homeless [person] on the other side of the street. So we bought two."

From there, her dad got an idea.

"That's when the light lit up, and I said, 'You know what, this is going to be your Christmas project,'" Febo Di Genova told CBC.

A decade later, father and daughter are churning out meals by the thousands every year, and teaming up with friends and family to hand those meals out to the city's most vulnerable.

Annalysa Di Genova has no shortage of volunteers to help sort and give out warm clothing as private donors support her cause year after year. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

The family relies on private donations to bring it all together, preparing the meals and gathering donated goods in the days leading up to Christmas.

This year, dozens helped the teenager with her annual project, coming together on Saturday in the Notre-Dame-de-la-Consolata at the corner of Jean-Talon Street and Papineau Avenue.

"I extremely proud of my daughter," said Febo Di Genova. "You know what, she's an angel."

Once all the meals are prepped and the donations sorted into care packages, the group visits shelter after shelter and delivers them to people on the streets, handing out not just meals, but also warm clothing, toothpaste and other supplies to those in need.

A sandwich assembly line was formed Saturday in a Montreal church to support Annalysa Di Genova's effort to feed people in need. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

"It's pretty overwhelming," said Annalysa, who lives in Montreal North. "When they say 'Thank you,' it's like the best 'Thank you' you could ever get."

Gisela Scalia, a family friend and regular volunteer, says everybody gets in the Christmas spirit, helping the community.

"And the fact that a little girl started all of this is inspiring," she said.

With files from Antoni Nerestant

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