One morning just before Christmas in 1983, Neil was eating his breakfast when he heard George Balcan on his CJAD morning show announce that Ville Marie Social services would be unable to provide Christmas baskets for 4000 families, due to cuts in their corporate funding.
Neil was immediately alert. “Perhaps we can do something about that on ‘Exchange’. What do you think? It’s always a risk. If no one phones in, management is not pleased. I can try.”
As soon as he was out the door, I phoned our neighbours, Gail and Gerard Fellerath, know for their public spirit. They had both been in the Peace Corps. Almost as soon as the show started, Gerard phoned in to say they would open up a drop-off food depot at their store, Folklore1, up the street.
Next thing you know, the superintendent of an apartment building in the east end of the city phoned in to say he would do the same at his building. A woman from Rosemere called to say she would drive people down to that depot. A third of Neil’s listeners at that time were francophone. People were phoning in from all over the city…
Stoph Hallward’s memories of Neil
Neil McKenty stood out among my parent’s friends when I was growing up. For one thing we were never allowed soft drinks in our house, yet they always made sure to have some whenever Neil and Cath came to the house. I wasn’t to really appreciate why that was for many years, but it led to one of my fondest memories of challenging Neil. I think I was ten at the time and Coke and Pepsi were still focusing on taste tests in their advertising. Somehow we got to talking about that when I was sent to ask Neil what he wanted to drink. Neil was quite sure that would be able to taste the difference, so I decided to challenge him. In the kitchen I poured Pepsi into an empty Coke can and then Coke into the rinsed out Pepsi can, then I presented two glasses to Neil and poured the beverages from their apparent cans into the glasses for him to test. To my delight he bought into what his eyes had told him and confidently picked the one he knew was his favourite…20 years later at my Quaker wedding, Neil shared that story and added a warning for my wife, not to take me on face value…
Neil also stood out from my parent’s friends by his voice, in person, but even more so by his radio show. It was exciting to know someone I could hear on the radio, but when I think back on it, he never sounded any dfferent hosting his show than he did challenging my family in friendly banter around the dinner table. His being so himself was probably part of what gave me the confidence to call him on his show, once.
It was sometime in the early 80s and Ville Marie Social Services didn’t have enough food for their annual Christmas baskets, so Neil was getting the word out. His show set off a chain of reactions across the city as so many people called in to offer their assistance in one way or another. My friend Roddy and I, probably 9 or 10, decided to join the effort and went door to door in our neighbourhood collecting canned food. It was an easy sell and our neighbours gave generously, but I can still remember sitting in my friend’s kitchen and calling Neil on the radio, I am pretty sure we were talked into it, but it created another memory of Neil that stayed with me.
Catharine continues her story:
Neil picked me up just past noon and we drove down to the Ville Marie headquarters. A social worker met us with tears streaming down her face. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” She said. That Christmas, four thousand hungry families were fed.
A year later, Neil discusses Ville-Marie charity at Christmas time http://neilmckenty.com/2013/01/20/ville-marie/