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Downtown Seva Initiative

Hundreds of students distribute necessities to the homeless in downtown Toronto

CBC Toronto
December 27, 2023

The day after Christmas was "pretty bad" for Michael Pacey, who is actively homeless. He says he was soaked from the rain and had nowhere to shelter himself.

Pacey says the day turned around when he encountered a group of students at Nathan Phillips Square, who handed him a bag full of necessities — nutrition bars, water bottles, toothbrushes and toothpaste, as well as warm clothing. "It's nice to have something when you're homeless," he said. "It'll be nice to have dry clothes for today."

Some 250 students from high schools and universities across the Greater Toronto Area gathered in downtown Toronto this week to distribute bags full of necessities to people living on the streets and in shelters, as part of the seventh annual Downtown Seva Initiative.

Care packages in keeping with seva

The Downtown Seva Initiative was started to inspire young people to practice seva, or selfless service, in remembrance of Chaar Sahibzade, the four sons of the 10th Sikh guru, who are known for their martyrdom.

"The reason we are here is to commemorate our 10th guru's sons, who were bricked alive when they were only four and seven years old," said Rajneet Kaur, a young student and volunteer since 2016. Kaur says the initiative is important to help young Canadians like herself stay connected to their roots. She says it's also important for spreading awareness about their community among Canadians. "Being born here, and learning about this through my parents and participating in volunteer activities makes me feel really good and connected," she said.

"This is going to be a life changing year for a lot of people," said fellow volunteer, Gursheen Kaur. "There is the housing crisis, inflation is high, people have lost their homes and families… a lot of people need help."

Food bank usage smashed another record this year, with more than 2.5 million visits between April 2022 and March 2023 — a 51 per cent increase from the year before — and there are no signs demand is slowing down, according to this year's Who's Hungry report from Daily Bread and North York Harvest food banks.

One of the organizers, Manjinder Nannan, whose kids are also volunteers, says kids need to be exposed to the state of those in need. She says giving the bags to a person themselves rather than dropping them at a donation centre helps them connect. "Kids can see their lives, and how important food and basic needs are, and learn to help them," Nannan said.

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