During this Advent season, many of us will stand comfortably next to a Christmas tree gazing out at the chilly weather.
On these days, volunteers at Toronto's Out of the Cold program will serve homeless people who need shelter from the winter conditions. And one family will continue their mission of getting "into the cold" to raise much needed money for Out of the Cold.
Bobbi Johnston-Flanigan runs a Christmas tree lot at St. Peter's Parish in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood, alongside her siblings Corey and Lucas. Last year they donated $35,000 of their proceeds to Out of the Cold, an interfaith community program that began in 1988 after students at St. Michael's College learned that a local homeless man had died in the cold weather.
"It really is of benefit and great service to the community," Johnston-Flanigan said.
"Knowing that the less unfortunate among us can receive care and dignity through the proceeds we raise is heartwarming for us."
It all started 28 years ago, when Bobbi's father Sonny started selling trees at one location with the hopes of raising money for charity.
The family has since acquired two more tree lots. Her mother Cathy and aunt Irene run a lot in the east end of Toronto, while a family friend runs another location on St. Clair Ave. West.
Bobbi and her family are happy to be back at St. Peter's for a third time now that a restoration project at the parish is nearly complete.
Fr. Michael McGourty, pastor at St. Peter's Parish, is thankful for their presence.
"They are a gift to our community and we are thankful for their great service and work," he said.
Through the years, Bobbi has seen what a blessing it is to sell Christmas trees at the parish.
Bobbi recounted how her father, Sonny, has volunteered with the Out of the Cold program for the last 25 years and was the driving force to give back, without expecting anything in return.
"Dad opened the Christmas tree lots with the intention of donating back and being as generous as he can," she said proudly.
"His children — both my brothers and I — are excited by the task of carrying on his legacy and continuing to donate."
Over the years, Sonny and the family have raised over $500,000, with proceeds going to help Toronto's homeless community.
Bobbi is confident they will reach their target of $30,000 by the end of this holiday season. As of December 5, they have pulled in about $7,125.
For more information on their efforts or to buy a fresh tree or wreath of your own, visit Sonny's Christmas Trees on Facebook.