The East End Pop-Up Shop for Syrian Refugees




The East End Pop-Up Shop for Syrian Refugees

Launched by East End community groups, The Hub is more than a free Value Village; it's a space for refugees to connect with the community

Photo from East Toronto Families for Syria from Facebook

Photo from East Toronto Families for Syria from Facebook.

After seeing images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body washed ashore in Turkey back in September, Caroline Starr felt compelled to do something. She wasn’t certain what that something would be, exactly, so she called some fellow East End moms together for a brainstorm session.

“We thought about sponsoring a family,” says Starr, “but then we realized that was crazy, because we all have one-year-olds and full-time jobs. This was supposed to be less work,” she says glancing around “The Hub,” a free pop-up shop for Syrian refugees that’s brimming with household items. “It’s turned into not less work at all,” she adds, tired but proud.

The Hub is the most recent initiative by East Toronto Families for Syria (ETF4S), the grassroots organization that Starr and seven other local women founded in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. At the time of its inception, the women didn’t know how many—if any—refugees Canada would take in, but they started making welcome baskets anyway. They put a call out to the community to donate kitchen and bathroom supplies, and the response was overwhelming. “We were a bit wary of accepting too much stuff,” says Starr. “We thought, ‘what if this doesn’t happen?’ At the same time, it felt like kind of a given that something was going to happen. There was just so much public outcry.”

Sure enough, the new Liberal government quickly acted on its promise to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees, and ETF4S ramped up its efforts.

But space for the ceaseless flow of donations soon became an issue. “We were squeezing items into every nook and cranny in our houses,” says Starr. “We decided we needed a storage locker.”

The women reached out to the community, once again, seeking donations to fund a storage space. But instead of a locker, they got a storefront on Danforth Avenue thanks to sponsorships from Remax Hallmark Realty and the Danforth East Community Association.

Over the last two weeks, ETF4S members and volunteers transformed the empty space into a carefully curated thrift shop: The walls are lined with cubbies neatly packed with bedding; cupboards stuffed with dishware, crock-pots, and Keurigs; shelves of toiletries, racks of clothing, a pile of headboards and bedframes, and a gallery of baby-transporting devices. On a big, foamy alphabet mat in one corner, a group of small children (who outnumber their adult supervisors) keep busy with a trove of donated toys.

Since opening its doors last week, The Hub has outfitted five families with supplies for their new homes, a number expected to balloon following the shop’s grand opening on January 23.

But this isn’t just a free alternative to Value Village. “We called it “The Hub” because we want it to be more than a space where people come to pick up stuff,” says Jennifer Scott, another founding member of ETF4S. “We want it to be a place where people come and connect with other people and get information and resources.”

Both Scott and Starr point out that in order for refugees to benefit fully from the massive influx of community support, there needs to be some coordination between the different services being offered.

“One of the problems with this crisis is that everyone’s so keen to respond, but connecting all those links together is not happening,” says Starr.

“There so many good intentions. Turning those intentions into something tangible can be kind of tricky. The Hub is one way we’re trying to do that.”

On January 30, The Hub is hosting a mixer aimed at connecting some of those links. Sponsors and refugees from across the city will get together and meet members of other support groups and projects that may help newcomers build their networks in Toronto.

The pop-up shop will be remain open until March 31, by which point Starr and Scott hope all of its contents will have found a new home. “We’ll still continue to exist—we’re not sure in what form—but we hope to continue doing other initiatives,” says Scott. “Whatever happens, happens, and we’ll keep trying to do good in whatever form that may be. For now it’s the shop.”

“Maybe we’ll finally get our storage locker,” Starr adds.