Teens at Burnaby jail enjoy holiday cheer thanks to 'Mommy' Florendo

Young offenders at the Burnaby Youth Custody Centre will once again enjoy a home-cooked turkey dinner tonight thanks to an 82-year-old Vancouver grandmother who has made bringing Christmas cheer to the centre a 36-year-tradition.

Evelyn Florendo, a mother of four and grandmother of three, began organizing annual Christmas dinners at the centre in 1982 after she heard about teens at the facility cutting themselves and taking their own lives, according to a government press release Friday.

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Evelyn Florendo
Evelyn Florendo - file

She had just lost her 44-year-old husband to a heart attack, and the stories of the youth resonated with her, stated the release.

Since then, every year when October hits, she begins organizing the annual dinner with help from dedicated volunteers, cold-calling for food donations, organizing volunteers and liaising with staff at the centre for gift ideas.

That work will culminate tonight when 24 of the 15-to-19-year-old youths serving time at the centre file into the gym and partake of traditional holiday fare, like turkey, stuffing, gravy and potatoes, but also non-traditional teen favourites, like pizza, hot dogs and pasta – all topped off with ice-cream from Mario's Gelati.

"You know how teenage boys are," Burnaby Youth Custody Services operations director Anita McDonnell said in the release. "Their plates are piled high, they've got hollow legs and going back for seconds is par for the course. It's nice to see kids behaving like kids and Evelyn never sits down the entire night. She tries to get the kids to dance."

After the dinner, the carols and the entertainment, Florendo (nicknamed 'Mommy' by some of the youth, according to the release) ends the evening by handing each them a gift with a personal “I love you.”


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