With the support of a Toronto Police officer, a Toronto Catholic school has reached out to a Haitian church in desperate need of clothing and school supplies.
While on United Nations policing mission in Haiti last year, Constable Antoinette Rowe promised an interpreter assigned to her commissariat that she would gather donations and bring them back to Haiti before the end of the year.
When not busy on the job mentoring police officers in the country, Rowe volunteered at a Canadian-sponsored orphanage and distributed donations she solicited for children.
When her god-daughter – Jayden Parks, a Grade Five student in Toronto – heard what Rowe was doing to help the Haitian people, she put together a package containing some of her garments and toys and sent it to her.
“Some of the clothing Jayden sent was shipped to our gender bureau at my commissariat, as we often had abandoned children whose parents had left them in the downtown core as they could no longer care for them,” said Rowe, assigned to Traffic Services. “These children were often brought to our commissariat where we fed them and brought them fresh clothes before they could continue on to children’s services.”
Recognizing the Canadians generosity inspired Rowe’s UN interpreter to ask for help for his church, Eglise Evangelique des Pelerins, which run a school for 144 kids.
“I welcomed the idea and thought his request could be turned into a community policing initiative. The plan was that we would attend the church weekly, bring fresh baked treats and interact with the kids for about an hour. We were going to have UN police officers as well as Haitian police officers participate, with hopes of building confidence and trust within the neighbourhood.”
Rowe, whose peacekeeping duties in Haiti ended last February, said the proposed plan stalled because of the proliferation of neighbourhood gangs that made it dangerous for police officers to attend the church in a civilian capacity.
Last August, Parks – with the support of her family, including her mom, Barb, and dad, Constable Ed Parks II – approached her school principal.
“The idea was that we put together an initiative that would link the school with the Haitian church,” said Parks, assigned to 51 Division. “The principal agreed, without hesitation.”
Students at St. Agatha Catholic School generously donated clothes and school supplies.
“The response was overwhelming and I am so proud of my daughter and what she was able to do,” said Ed Parks II. “We have always stressed to our kids the importance of giving, especially to the less fortunate.”
Two months ago, Rowe returned to Haiti with bags of supplies for the church.
“Our long-term goal is to continue this work with the church and try to connect families,” Rowe pointed out. “It would be wonderful if kids from the same age groups in Canada and Haiti could interact with one another.”
Ingrid McEachen, the school principal, lauded Rowe for the initiative.
“Our school is blessed to know and work with an amazing police officer,” she said. “We look forward to continuing this practice and strengthening our students’ commitment to taking local and global action.”
St. Agatha graduate and lunchtime supervisor Mary Rafter was excited to be part of the project.
“Without a doubt, our school’s strength and success is very much based on a strong and loving community which has come together, time and again, to help those in need, for whatever reason,” she said. “I am also happy our children got to experience this from start to finish. This was a most memorable moment that will never be forgotten by all involved and I was so very happy to be part of such a beautiful thing.”