Judith James, pastor at Revivaltime Tabernacle church, said about 25 volunteers are working at the church throughout the day, but are struggling to keep pace with donations.
The donations are for people who only a few days ago were sleeping on downtown city sidewalks in Toronto outside a homeless support centre as different levels of government fought over funding for shelters. The asylum seekers are now living in the church basement.
“People are hearing the need and responding,” James said last Tuesday. “So [many] donations are coming in. If we could get people to volunteer an hour or two just to help sort through that, that would be wonderful as well.”
Earlier this week, the federal government announced it would spend $97 million to help the city house newcomers. On Wednesday, the city and the province each pledged $6.67 million as a one-time funding top up to the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit to get more people into permanent housing and free up spaces in the existing shelter system.
Toronto city council also passed a motion, moved by Mayor Olivia Chow, that directs city staff to open up 150 shelter spaces for refugee claimants, primarily by renewing shelter hotel contracts, and to find 100 more spaces in the coming days.
James said the donations have been overwhelming.
The donations include food, clothing and toiletries. James said there is also a need for brand new items instead of previously used items and organizers are still looking for portable showers.
On Tuesday, a truck organized by Jewish advocacy organization B’nai Brith Canada dropped 2,000 pounds of food off at the church.
Cheryl Landy, director of community engagement for B’nai Brith Canada, said the organization wanted to do its part to help after it received a call from Coun. James Pasternak saying the asylum seekers were being moved to a church near its offices.
Maxine Thompson, a volunteer, said she came to the church with a few donations on Tuesday and stayed to help sort because she wanted to serve the people. She said she was spurred into action after seeing a TV news report of refugee claimants sleeping in the rain in Toronto.
“It really upset me. It sparked a passion in me to find a way that I can contribute and help,” she said.
Simone Richards, another volunteer, works in shelters with refugees and said she has been doing a number of volunteer jobs at the church.
“We just need some more volunteers. There’s a lot of work here that needs to be done. There are a lot of folks here that need the help and the assistance. It’s so great that the church opened up its doors. It’s such a blessing. But we are calling for more support.”
Officials have said the number of asylum seekers in Toronto’s shelter system grew by 500 per cent in 20 months and the city is now turning them away from maxed-out shelters toward federal programs.