On December 23, retired Montreal police station commander Robert (Bob) Sauvé, his wife Carmen Aubry, their three children and five grandchildren will gather to celebrate the holidays.
Instead of waiting for gifts to come their way, they will be at Sun Youth headquarters on St. Urbain to distribute holiday packages of food and gifts to families in need.
Sauvé is modest about his work with Sun Youth – he asked that the focus be on the organization and its work, not on him – but his involvement with Montreal’s best known humanitarian organization parallels its growth and evolution.
Sauvé, who is 67 and retired from the force in 2003 after 30 years, recalled his initial involvement with Sun Youth, when he was promoted to police captain in 1992 and sent to serve in Outremont.
“Sun Youth was in our patrol area and that’s when I first got involved. Today it’s called community policing.
“When bad things happen, you need resources to help people, and Sun Youth has always been there, 24 hours a day. They really work hard at it, to give services, when needed, and for a police department, that’s a godsend!”
Sauvé recalled its evolution, from the two-cents-a-read community newspaper called the Clark Street Sun, to today’s multifaceted humanitarian organization, and paid tribute to its founders.
While Earl De La Perralle did “fantastic things” organizing and coaching sports teams, Sauvé worked mainly with co-founder Sid Stevens, who was “always at the front lines” when it came to crime-prevention and humanitarian programs. He recalled the tragic story reported in the media of a Gaspé-region man who had frozen to death after his electricity was cut off because he was behind in his Hydro bill.
“It shocked a lot of people, but it was Sid Stevens who picked up the phone and called Hydro Québec and said, ‘I don’t want this ever to happen again’. “He said, ‘if you want to shut off the electricity to a home anywhere in the province give me a call and Sun Youth will take care of the bill, and make arrangements to straighten things out. This should never happen again’.”
As for Sauvé’s own involvement, he recalled working with fellow station commander Michel Lecompte, then working in Côte-des-Neiges.
Sauvé was commanding what was then Station 36 on Van Horne, serving Outremont and Mile End (today it’s station 24).
“All our police cars had blankets and teddy bears, which goes beyond standard police equipment, to help accident victims, especially children. The teddy bears were also important for children when there was a crisis at home and police were called. These were supplied by Sun Youth.”
Sun Youth’s pioneering intervention to help fire victims, and its fliers to help locate missing people, were essential. “When there were situations where rewards were offered, they were our go-to people.”
Today, Sauvé chairs the four-member committee that checks out some 300 requests Sun Youth receives from youngsters for free bicycles, with funds provided by the donor who wishes to remain anonymous, known as Mr. Bike Man.
It evolved out of the Sun Youth Bike Patrol, with which Sauvé was involved. Young people drove around parks and worked with seniors who reported on any abuse they experienced. It expanded on and off the island.
When he retired Sauvé was named honourary president of the selection committee for the free bikes – some 85 were given away last year – and he remains involved in selecting the most deserving applicants.
The Sauvé family – Robert and Carmen, along with son François and daughter, Isabelle and Julie with two children each – will be there Dec. 23 to bring some joy to needy families before the holidays.
Says Sauvé: “As a member of this planet, at some point you have to give back. “If you’re looking for a way to do it, Sun Youth will find a way to channel your energy. You can also contribute monetarily, but if you want to help out, Sun Youth is the perfect place to do it.”