Community organizations in Toronto rally in support of refugees.
With the Canadian government extending their end-of-year deadline to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees, Torontonians are taking matters into their own hands.
All across the city, individuals, institutions, and community organizations are coming together to raise money and donate clothing. Although Toronto city council passed a motion last month to allocate $600,000 for resettlement services for Syrian refugees, individual Torontonians have taken it upon themselves to sponsor families in need.
Room for More, a small ad-hoc group of neighbours, friends and families, are getting ready to receive its sponsored family in the next couple of weeks.
Just this weekend, the organization was able to secure housing in the Bloor West area for their family of six; a single mother and five children between the ages of eight and 21 who have been living in a refugee camp in Lebanon. What began as a simple Facebook post a couple of months ago expressing frustration about the refugee crisis and the desire to do something has blossomed into a perfect example of what communities are capable of when they come together.
Their blog describes in great detail the process they went through to sponsor their family. Using the Canadian government’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program, which provides various options on how to sponsor a family, Room for More member, Joanne Warden, did not mince words when asked about a petition asking the Canadian government to reconsider the settlement of Syrian refugees.
“It has become such a polarized issue and the attacks in France are being used as an excuse for racism that people have been probably harbouring for a while,” said Warden.
A recent poll shows 54 per cent of Canadians oppose the government’s plan to resettle Syrian refugees.
For Warden, the polls and fear mongering are meaningless.
“I remember when the Vietnamese refugees came here in the thousands. It has worked before and it will work again.”
History also played an important role for Shuah Roskies getting involved with the Room for More group.
“Where we are born is a luck of the draw really and we all came here from somewhere else. I am fourth generation Jewish and someone helped my family come here and I want to do the same,” said Roskies.
If opposition to the government’s plan exists in Toronto, it is proving difficult to find.
Supper with Syria, again an entirely community based initiative, is organizing a fundraising dinner and event. Hoping to raise $70,000 in order to sponsor two Syrian families, the organization has already raised more than $45,000.
The three organizers, Sang Kim, Inna Gertsberg, and Dr.Lara Zahabi-Bekdash, have combined their past experiences in order to create an event that explores the historical richness of the Syrian culture.
“We wanted to go past the awful headlines in the news and show a different side of Syrian culture, one that most people don’t know anything about,” said Zahabi-Bekdash.
The event allows community members to experience the culture of Syria prior to the arrival of the refugee families, who will be resettled right in the St.Clair West area where the event is being held.
Ward 21 councillor Joe Mihevc is also supporting the initiative and was actually selling event tickets right out of his office at City Hall.
“It’s been inspiring to see the community come together around this event. In the next few months we will be welcoming thousands of new neighbours in our communities. We need to get to know them. Supper with Syria will be a really unique opportunity for friends and neighbours to experience aspects of Syrian cuisine, art, and culture that they may not be as familiar with,” said Mihevc.