Santa Claus Fund: Budding engineer gives back
Published on Sunday December 16, 2012
Ragu Kanagalingam, 26, received gifts from the Santa Claus Fund as a kid in St. James Town. This year, he decided to become a volunteer himself.
As a boy growing up in St. James Town, Ragu Kanagalingam didn’t know much about Christmas.
His parents had emigrated from Sri Lanka when he was a toddler, and the tree-decorating, carol-singing and stocking-stuffing had always seemed foreign. And since money was tight, big gifts were out of the question.
Then, when he was about 6, volunteers from the Santa Claus Fund knocked on his door.
“The boxes were green decorated with drawings of Santa and reindeer, and I was really excited,” recalled Kanagalingam, now 26. “It felt really good to get something for the holidays.”
At the time, Kanagalingam was oblivious to the poverty, drugs and crime in his troubled neighbourhood. All he knew was that he had a lot of friends to play with in the close-knit community.
But as he got older, some of those friends began to join gangs or go to jail. When he was about 10, his parents took him to volunteer in a soup kitchen.
“It was then I realized that I should be grateful for whatever my family and I had,” he said. “Looking back, Christmas in my family was more about realizing we should be grateful for what we have and giving to people less fortunate, than gift giving amongst ourselves.”
The family moved to Richmond Hill soon after. Kanagalingam earned his civil engineering degree at the University of Toronto and has almost finished his work experience at an engineering firm.
“I honestly consider myself and my family lucky to have survived, to be able to get out of the area and do something with our lives,” he said.
Now that his hectic university life is over, he’s begun to volunteer again — first as a Big Brother, and on a recent weekend, as a Santa Claus Fund delivery volunteer.
He brought along a friend from his old Richmond Hill high school, so she could see a different side of Toronto. “She was very surprised that people from all walks of life live in at-risk neighbourhoods,” he said.
As he dropped off boxes in a Santa hat, he remembered his own excitement the first time he received a Christmas gift.
“There were a number of kids that were literally jumping up and down when they received the Toronto Star Santa Claus fund boxes,” he said.
“One mother told us that her children were reminding her throughout the week that ‘Santa was coming on Dec. 1, to drop off presents.’”
If you have been touched by the Santa Claus Fund or have a story to tell, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Amount raised: $1,640,616
Donate online to the Star’s Santa Claus Fund and you will help provide gift boxes to 45,000 needy children. It’s a small thing that will make a big difference.
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