Transit officer turns online gaming into reality cheque for charity – COVID mandated seclusion used to support Wigs for Kids

Many of us are spending self-isolation in front of small and big screens. Metrolinx Transit special constable Walter Ribeiro – helped by his young daughters – found a way to make his gaming passion raise needed funds for a remarkable cause.

In these COVID-19 days, there are a lot of frustrated parents who are telling their kids to take a break from their devices.

But in Walter Ribeiro’s home, his family – and many others he has never met – have been encouraging the Metrolinx Transit Safety special constable to keep playing his online games. For the father of three, a virtual pastime is helping to write reality cheques for sick children.

Hands hold a gaming controller.

A gamer uses a controller in this stock image. While for most people, that means racking up virtual points, Transit Safety officer Walter Ribeiro has been turning his passion into support for a worthy cause. (William Wicksted photo)

Ribeiro has served with Metrolinx Transit Safety for the past five years in the Central Division. That means, he holds watch over Union Station, the busiest transit hub in the country. He sees the crossroads of Canada, as travellers move off in every direction. And in the heart of Toronto, he also sees those who are struggling to get ahead – especially during these days of battling COVID-19.

It’s made him realize how fortunate he is.

Now largely secluded during off-hours at home, the pandemic has provided him with lots of time with his young family – and an opportunity to give back to the community.

To relax, Ribeiro plays his video games, including starting a live YouTube channel. The online gaming trend around the world is massive and growing. In 2019 alone, YouTube Gaming saw a reported 46 per cent increase in viewership. For Ribeiro, it’s largely been a way to connect with friends and fellow players.

But he recently hosted a marathon, 24-hour live-stream gaming marathon to support the charity Wigs for Kids – a cause that provides hair replacement and support for children (at no cost to their families) who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other medical issues.

Ribeiro set a modest goal for himself of raising $250. But the commitment was even greater for his young daughters, six-year-old Kira and five-year-old Anita. They both have donated their own hair for the Wigs for Kids cause.

A child smiles, as she shows her cut hair.

Kira Ribeiro as she donated her hair. (Walter Ribeiro photos)

A child holds up her trimmed hair.

Younger sibling, Anita Ribeiro, also shows off her donation of hair to Wigs for Kids. (Walter Ribeiro photos)

Online, with the help of his followers and his ability to keep his eyes and fingers moving for 24-hours, Ribeiro was able to raise $1,300 for the charity.

“I love that this is a non-profit organization that improves kids’ lives,” Ribeiro said. “My children really loved it and felt important by their donation.

“I’m sure my youngest who is two will also love to contribute her locks — once she has enough.”

Transit safety officers are trained to live their lives on the frontlines and be prepared for almost anything physically.

But toiling for 24-hours straight is pretty grueling, noted Transit Safety sergeant, Jeff Ekubor: “Let alone being alert and interacting with people while you have a camera on you after spending all day entertaining three kids stuck at home due to a pandemic.”

The Wigs for Kids charity stresses the effects of hair loss go deeper than just a change in a child’s outward appearance, with the website noting: “Hair loss can erode a child’s self-confidence and limit them from experiencing life the way children should.”

Ribeiro spent hours in a virtual realm to help children he may never meet during days when we all have more time to consider those going through tougher times.

And his two oldest daughters, even at such a young age, have given even more of themselves for the greater good.

Story by Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx senior manager, Media.