Occasionally, if we’re lucky, our life orbit intersects with that of an extraordinarily caring soul, that uniquely selfless person who would never burden someone with their own problems, but is always first in with a compassionate hand, hug, or a reassuring word, when adversity befalls another.
Such a person was London resident and longtime insurance claims adjuster, Agi McLaren.
Thursday marks the 20th consecutive running of the Agi McMuffin Breakfast, an initiative founded on Agi’s dream of making Christmas a little brighter for children of families in need, by trading breakfast for a gift.
“Every child should have a present to open at Christmas,” she would say. With the help of a loyal core of supporters, it’s a legacy that has continued in her name, since 2013, when she lost her battle with breast cancer.
The rules for the event are simple; in exchange for a new, unwrapped childrens’ gift, brought to a downtown London office temporarily turned short-order kitchen, the donor is treated to a breakfast feast of ham, eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, English muffins, juice and coffee.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, and just nine years old during the Hungarian Revolution, in 1956, Agi knew something about tough childhoods and the sustenance of kindness. She shared stories of her grandfather organizing the family’s escape from the terror of Soviet occupation and a bloody conflict that ultimately killed 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops.
She spoke of a frightened family making a human heap of themselves, and keeping deathly still, to simulate haystacks in a darkened field and avoid detection by Soviet night patrols. She cherished the freedom and peace her family found and her children and grandchildren now know in Canada.
With a penchant for hard work and a passion for cooking, ensuring everyone was fed put Agi in her element. At five-foot-one-and-a-half, what she gave up in height was more than made up in heart. Never one to risk shortfalls when cooking for family occasions, her co-workers were the grateful beneficiaries when surplus trays of cabbage rolls and peanut butter balls found their way to the office the following Monday.
For Agi, raising gifts for kids was never about recognition. In a short speech each year, standing before a mountain of toys, she spoke always with humble appreciation. A teary word of thanks to business partners and colleagues who enthusiastically donated supplies and precious time, to toil along side her over steaming grills and hotplates. A heartfelt thanks to those who helped her realize her dream by stopping in with a gift or two on their way to work.
From its modest beginnings, support for Agi’s gift drive for kids grew to 150 breakfasts served and a couple hundred gifts – with people travelling in from as far as Toronto, Sarnia and Windsor – for The Salvation Army of London to distribute to children.
When a friend, colleague, and tireless supporter of the event visited Agi, shortly before her passing, the biggest worry for this champion of children was ensuring the continuation of the annual toy drive, once she was gone.
Agi’s legacy carries on, but her greatest gift may be found in the example left with her young grandchildren. When asked what the event meant to them:
“It helps parents who can’t afford presents, and it’s good to help others in need.” – Ainsley
“It’s when I remember Nanny the most and I like all the presents for kids.” – Emilia
“It can make a kid’s Christmas an enjoyable one and people remember you as a good and loving person.” – Lukas
Good and loving she was indeed.