Refugees need your time, expertise, and stuff—not just your funding.
There’s no shortage of love for Syrian refugees in Toronto, but knowing how to channel that desire to help can be tricky. It becomes especially confusing when you want to offer support and don’t have a wealth of disposable income.
To help you navigate the vast refugee support network, we’ve compiled some ways to pitch in that don’t involve opening up your wallet.
Donate your stuff
That extra winter coat, those chairs stacked in the closet, the slow cooker you never use—all those dust collectors could serve someone else much better, don’t ya think? There are a number of avenues for donate your goods to Syrian refugees.
- Furniture Bank: The charity, originally designed to help people transitioning out of homelessness, has partnered with Lifeline Syria to ramp up furniture and houseware donations for Syrian refugees across the GTA. Furniture Bank operates out of a 2,800-square-metre facility in Etobicoke where you can drop off any gently used household items. You can also have a volunteer pick up donations from your home for a fee that starts at about $100.
- The Hub: This Danforth Avenue pop-up shop was initiated by a group of moms from East Toronto Families for Syria organization. The Hub, which opened last month, has blown through what was an overflowing stock of donated furniture, small appliances, clothing, toys, and household cleaning products, and could really use more. Particularly, they’re looking for new pillows, blankets and sheets, dishes, kitchen tools, luggage, baby bottles, toiletries, and cleaning supplies.
Offer your expertise
Whether or not you have the means to donate money, you may have skills and know-how that are valuable to newcomers than your pocket book.
- Pro bono legal advice: More than 1,000 lawyers, law students and sponsorship experts have already volunteered, through the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program (SSP), to provide private sponsors with pro bono legal aid. This work will help newcomers navigate the sponsorship application and settlement process. SSP, an offshoot of the University of Ottawa’s Refugee Law Hub, now operates in five cities across the country, including Toronto. Volunteers receive training in refugee law, so no previous expertise is required. The FCJ Refugee Centre also seeks law students on an ongoing basis who can help ease the settlement process for their clients.
- Accessible healthcare: Refugees are expected to get a medical assessment shortly after arriving in Canada, which can be difficult to do without a family doctor or health card. To get past the hurdles, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care launched the Refugee HealthLine, a hotline that connects refugees with volunteer healthcare professionals offering “transitional care.” This includes initial medical assessments and referrals to specialists or other health services. Any individual healthcare provider, organization or clinic can participate, so long as they’re funded by the Interim Federal Health Program or Ontario Health Insurance Plan. This includes physicians, nurses, physiotherapists, midwives, psychologists, and gynaecologists, to name a few. Volunteers can sign up by calling the HealthLine at 1-866-286-4770.
- Language services: Just about every organization and sponsorship group involved with refugee outreach (most of which are listed on Lifeline Syria’s website) can use more Arabic-speaking volunteers. Aside from lending your Arabic skills to legal aid, healthcare, or housing providers, you can join a group called Syrian Active Volunteers, which bills itself as the Uber of Syrian refugee settlement. The organization working on an app, and has a pool of 500 members, all Arabic-speaking, on hand to assist refugees in the process. Co-founder, Sam Jisri, says the group gets over 100 service requests per day.
Open up your home
If you’re a landlord and have a house or apartment to rent out, you can make sure that the home goes to a Syrian refugee family or individual. You can participate by going to Woodgreen.org and filling out the H.O.M.E. (Housing Opportunities & Marketplace Exchange) application. Similar to Kijiji, the service allows businesses and individuals to post not just available housing, but any goods and services they have to offer Syrian refugees settling in Toronto.
Volunteer your time
There are also plenty of ways to help that only require your time. The list of organizations offering refugee support is a long one, but here’s a taste of how you can get involved.
- Culture Link: This is a welcome centre that focuses on mentorship for refugees to help them settle into all aspects of life in Toronto. The organization relies heavily on volunteers to offer programs like English conversations circles, career mentoring club, newcomers walking circles to explore the city, and citizen education mentoring circles.
- Turtle House Art/Play Centre: Turtle House is a place for children and families coming from regions of conflict to explore their creativity through art and play, and connect with the local community. Refugee children can enrol in a nine-week art program, and the centre also offers English conversation circles for adults.
- Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture:
While the centre notes that it isn’t currently accepting new volunteers, this is a one service to keep an eye on for when there’s another call for help. The centre supports some of the most vulnerable refugees in overcoming the trauma of torture and war. Some of the volunteer-run initiatives include befriending survivors of torture, where volunteers meet socially with clients for a few hours per week, an English tutoring service, career support, and an escorting program, where volunteers, preferably Arabic-speaking, accompany clients to appointments to help facilitate communication.
- Project Hope:
The Archdiocese of Toronto launched is raising $3 million to settle refugees across the GTA, and aside from funding, it needs 100 volunteer committees to help with the process. The initiative, called Project Hope, needs volunteers who can help refugees enrol in language classes, search for jobs, find healthcare practitioners, and learn more about culture in Toronto. Volunteers can link up with an established sponsorship group through through the Archdiocese website.