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Thousands of Christmas meals spark new life

Thousands of Christmas meals spark new life

(Photo Credit: Andrew Taran/UGM)

Emily Surrette usually spent Christmas cold, hungry, alone, and homeless. She remembers barely clinging onto life. “It was horrible. I would hide behind the church in a blanket just curled up, trying to keep warm,” recalls the 34-year-old. “I just had nowhere to go.”

Emily’s struggles started at age 12, after enduring violence and trauma. Expected to fend for herself, Emily quickly fell into drugs to escape reality. This led to a dangerous lifestyle of working as an escort. Eventually, after being exposed to violence, Emily found herself homelessness.

But just before Christmas, Emily was admitted to the hospital. And thankfully, she was referred to UGM’s The Sanctuary, a stabilization program for women. That’s when everything changed.

“There were people who actually cared,” she smiles. “It was like a spa to me, because I wasn’t on the street. I was like, ‘Holy smokes, I don’t have to worry.’ Now I can start thinking, ‘What am I going to do next?’”

That was four years ago. Today, Emily is housed, stable, and recently volunteered at UGM. She kicked off this past Christmas season on December 8 by giving back, helping serve 3,060 turkey dinners to others in need.

The meal was the last feast ever held at UGM’s Women and Families Centre at 616 East Cordova. The 37-year-old building is now being demolished, and rebuilt into a new, 7-storey Women and Families Centre – expected to help thousands of women like Emily over the coming decades.

“I don’t know where I’d be without UGM or that building,” Emily admits.

“Emily’s ongoing triumph is a path we hope thousands will follow,” says UGM President, Bill Mollard. “The Christmas meal marked a turning point. Many people are now connected to our life-saving programs, and will continue finding future support as we expand.”

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