We are a group of volunteers, mostly senior & disabled, committed to our community seniors and disabled to help them live safer and healthier lives and to break the isolation factor. I started these events many years ago (in 1992) by getting two of my friends together and did about 4 a year with a very small portion of funding money we received from the City of Toronto back then and funding from our own pockets. It was more of an Afternoon Tea & Social at the time. Volunteers made baked goods. With major health problems of two of the main volunteers it was discontinued for approx. 5 years. Then in mid 2003 We started up again since residents still were asking for it. Paying for it out of our pockets. In 2005 with the help of some funding from two community agencies and our health back on track, more volunteers on board, we started moving forward again. At that point we were being funded $60 every 6 weeks through these organizations we were also able to make it a full hot heart healthy lunch when we also again contributed some funds ourselves, and the participation level grew even more. We serve a variety of meals including Vegetarian to try reach out to the diverse nationalities of our participants. This means Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Italian, Greek and many other different cultures are at times represented in our meals. When we re-started the events it was well received and we also received requests from the adult physically disabled population to attend as well so we opened the doors to them too. Via our attendee’s requests and funding through grants, we now hold these events twice a month instead of every 6 weeks and to include other activities to the initial events.
We serve well over 100 members (residents from the community). We also have a core group of about 20 volunteers that run the program. Six of our volunteers are already certified food handlers. Plus we have had Public Health come in and give a seminar on food handling for everyone else. Anyone in our low income community who is 55 or over or are a physically disabled adult can be a member.
Along with the two meals per month we also provided our participants with a week's worth of fresh produce towards the end of the month to help them get over the hump. We have also celebrated birthdays and each one celebrating received a gift of a food gift card for a local grocery store. This may not seem like much however to those that have no one to celebrate their special day with them, it's a big thing. (Sadly, as of this year we no longer have the funding for this project - it will be sadly missed). We also had a mini blood pressure clinic and a mini diabetes clinic that were well attended. We also celebrated annual holidays too. We did as much as possible that little money could provide and that could be done by volunteers.
We were going along fabulously until September 24th, 2010. On this evening we had what was Toronto's worst apartment fire ever. 120 Firemen were present, not including police. The fire in one of our apt's raged for 8 hrs. The Fire Marshall evacuated the entire building. After 8 days of evacuation, some of the residents in this building of over 700 apt's were allowed back. But only to the south tower. On Monday January 23rd 2012 (yes, 2012) our last resident that was still out of his apt. and living in a hotel all that time, was allowed to move back home. Millions of dollars of damages were done in this fire.
Our seniors program was lucky in a sense, we had no water or fire damage however, we suffered greatly. Since there were power outages we lost all our food in our two large chest freezers, and our side x side fridge/freezer. One of our freezers actually cracked. The length of time we were not allowed to utilize the room we hold the meals in (until January 2012) all our canned food had expired as well. Not only this, but the City changed all the locks so we had no access to our rooms however the contractors were given access for whatever reason and we were robbed blind. They removed 92 chairs that were not returned until we screamed loud enough and then only 30 or some reappeared. Also removed was our microwave, our chef and carving knives, our fast food containers that we put seconds in for the seniors to take home. All our cutlery, cups, plates, paper towel, stainless steel bowls, some pots, you name it, it walked! Miraculously the microwave reappeared after I started to make a huge fuss over it. They also replaced about $175.00 worth of stuff that went missing (all smaller stuff - cutlery, cups, plates, etc.) but nothing else. I had to go out, on my scooter (I'm disabled), repurchase and provide the receipts in the middle of Winter.
Further to this, our office was robbed as well. All our office chairs were removed, our kettle was gone, our coffeemaker, our Brita Jug, our powerbars for our computers, gone too. Things thrown all over the place. We also discovered our computers are not working either due to water damage or multiple power surges. The City had given over our office for the security company (Mustang Security) that they hired to protect us and our contents during the renovations from the fire. The City's insurance adjusters said we had no water damage however we have ample pictures that we did including a hugely bubbled ceiling, a rippled wall and numerous boxes that have a water line 6" up the box. Plus a former Superintendent that says he stood in it up to his ankles. It's a disgrace and the City is not acknowledging the damages. They never did. We only got a bit of money via the class action lawsuit.
Normally we are covered under the City of Toronto's insurance since we are a social housing building and run a program with volunteer community members however I have been fighting this issue since the fire and still after all this time we are left holding the bag and the City is not covering our losses. It's only around $8,000 total (not including the computers) but still, they are doing nothing so we are starting from scratch again, mostly from out of my pocket. A few things are being donated but not much I'm afraid. My pockets are not that deep.
At this point in time, we are up and running again. We have been incredibly lucky recently and in late 2011 Rosar Morrison Funeral Home graciously picked us up as the community program they wanted to support. That paid for our one bigger meal per month for the year. After that we were lucky to get a grant from New Horizons and that paid for our 2 meals a month and other things got back on track. With this grant, Rosar Morrison went even further for us and for the year supplied us with the funding for our fresh fruit & veg program.
This is an economically deprived area, is very difficult to fundraise and we are so grateful for all we have. We even reached out to the media prior to Christmas, to the Sun newspaper, to write a story about us with some hope of help however they never responded. We are no longer having to borrow chairs for meals either. With the New Horizons grant we were able to restore our Birthday celebrations however our grant ran out in Sept. 2013 so we had to find a new source for it. Which we did! City Hope came through and then the United Church backed us up for 2 years! It costs us approx. $130.00 a month for it. This program is on stall again though so I will be looking for someone to help us again.
Oddly enough, a while after the fire, in January 2011, we finally received our Charitable number from the federal government. We are hoping this will make donations easier to those that wish to help us get back on our feet. It just took another year for us to be able to use it. Our Charitable number is 83197 8457 RR0001
To this date, I am happy to say that we are on our feet and running. Our new grant comes in the end of March 2016 and it will carry us for yet another year. I cannot say how hopeful and happy I am. Some of our fabulous volunteers have retired due to health issues or age but they still come for the meals and activities. We have picked up new volunteers in their place and they are just amazing. We are so lucky in this respect. I have always said, and always will... I couldn't do this without my volunteers. They are simply the best volunteers in the world! :-)