The Difference a Gift Makes: Sofia’s Story

“In my family, it was always about finding joy in the little things,” says Sofia Martimianakis, Toronto resident who grew up in a household that experienced financial hardships.

When she was a toddler, her parents declared bankruptcy and lost their family home. Later, her father suffered from a major heart attack that required surgery, many months in the hospital awaiting the procedure and a long road to recovery. “It was difficult for me to process as a child,” says Sofia. “When you’re young, you don’t know your family’s financial situation, but you feel the consequences of it.”

At school, Sofia was aware that she did not have the same things as her classmates. She wore clothes that didn’t fit properly, and when her peers received packages of class photos purchased by their parents, she didn’t get one. “I wondered if it was because my mom didn’t like my picture,” says Sofia. “But when I brought it up years later, she told me it was because we had to save all our money for food. There was no extra money for anything else.”

Come Christmas time, there were many years without presents for the family. But one year, a box appeared under the tree with Sofia’s name on it. 

Sofia, photographed with her father the summer after recovering from his heart surgery.

Sofia’s community had rallied together to fill a box with winter necessities, toys, canned food and snacks like caramel popcorn and chocolate for her to open on Christmas morning. “I can’t express enough how amazing that was, it really was a Christmas miracle that people in the community had come together to offer this box of things just for me that made me feel so special,” says Sofia. She couldn’t wait to bring her gifts to school to show her friends, including a pair of sky-blue mittens that Sofia loved. 

Sofia with her daughter, Elowyn, at Sparks.

Now, as an adult with her own six-year-old daughter, Sofia remembers how meaningful it was to know that people cared and wanted to support her family through their hardships. This Christmas, she chose to pay it forward by offering the same support to another family in need through Moorelands Kids’ Christmas Sharing program. She currently leads a Sparks unit of Girl Guides, and together they adopted a family of five – the Girl Guides divided up wish lists, shopped for presents and learned about the importance of giving back to the community.

“The girls were very excited. They decorated boxes, made cards and pictures for the family, and afterwards we talked about the joy this family might experience receiving these gifts,” says Sofia. “For my daughter specifically, I shared my own personal story to help put it into perspective. She has been very fortunate to never need anything, but I tried to explain the difference between wanting a gift for the holidays and needing a gift. And I had been in the situation where I needed winter accessories.”

Among the carefully chosen gifts for the family they adopted, Sofia’s daughter asked to leave a message for the children. “We wrote to never give up on your dreams, big or small, and that with hard work, anything is possible,” says Sofia. “When I wrote that message, it took me back to my own experience. It was like writing to a young version of myself.”

By adopting a family this Christmas, Sofia hopes to pass along the support that she once received. She hopes to leave them with one meaningful message: “Your community is behind you.”

The Sparks decorate boxes for their Christmas Sharing family.

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