Contributed by Debjani Sinha. I have been contemplating what thanksgiving would mean in 2020, amidst the onslaught of a global pandemic that has not only brought the world economy to its knees, but families across the globe have been forced to bid a hasty adieu to the people they loved most.
Eight months have passed since this pandemic arrived at our doors. And over the anxious days and sleepless nights, we have all been through testing times. With the second wave catching momentum, we hold our breath and stare at a long wintry night. As Game of Thrones fans would say….Winter is coming!
But like so many of you I am here to tell the tale. It would not have been so without the tireless efforts of a few organizations that operate in our St. James Town neighborhood bringing food, hope, and smiles with their undeterred will power to serve. I dedicate my family’s thanksgiving to the members of these institutions.
The Corner/ CMT Neighbours & Others
The St. James Town Community center tirelessly serves this community that is home to immigrants and newcomers from all over the world. Working for one of the most densely populated and economically deprived neighborhoods of the city of Toronto, the importance of this cornerstone organization cannot be emphasized enough. Then COVID happens, the city goes into lockdown, disrupting the already fragile balance that sustained the vulnerable community.
To ensure that the sudden loss of livelihood did not result in homes forgoing meals, The Corner immediately reached out to everyone with the message that they would be operating a food bank for those in need. This initiative with their partners of Our Lady of Lourdes in Toronto and The New Common has been working towards putting food on the table. They are also running a program for Meal Delivery, which aims to provide a meal to those who are particularly high risk of getting, and developing symptoms related to, COVID19.
Community Matters Toronto had also been distributing food baskets for vulnerable adults and seniors for the past few months. All these institutions have stepped up to the challenge posed by the pandemic and have ensured food security for all.
Art City Toronto
My son loves art. Art gives him the means to communicate, express, and cope with all the things he doesn’t yet understand. This is true for all kids and adults and the reason why adult coloring books have become the most sought after stress buster.
One afternoon, I walked into the Art City studio to register my son for one of their many art programs. I was upfront about the fact that my son has special needs and asked if would they would be willing to accommodate him in their after-school program? The answer was a resounding yes and since then Art City has been a wonderful addition to my son’s and my world. Their team is a happy bunch of art enthusiasts, who love inspiring kids to imagine a vivid world full of colors and magical beings. They are patient, persistent, and engaging even when the mode of discourse had to shift to online due to COVID. Encouraging creative expression, nurturing imagination, and helping kids remain kids; when the world around them is changing at a menacing pace, is in itself a noble pursuit.
Parenting and Family Literacy Centre
With the schools, the EarlyON Parenting centers also had to close doors and their reopening is still under discussion. But, I had to include our neighborhood parenting center in my list of things that I am grateful for because I kept receiving messages and calls from Nicky enquiring if we had enough food in the house, did we need any food assistance, did my baby have diapers and baby food? Questions that I could answer in the affirmative but am sure many moms would have been able to get the help they needed. That was not the end, she continued to enquire about my kids’ mental and physical well being over the months.
I feel that everyone who visited the parenting center at Rose Avenue must have had a similar experience. Though it is under discussion whether parenting centers should open their doors given the deteriorating situation of the pandemic, the coordinators have continued to reach out and serve the neighborhood moms virtually.
Children’s Book Bank
When the first wave hit us in spring, even the public libraries had to close their doors. Access to the library, access to books is essential to the Canadian way of life. Amidst the soaring numbers, while the pandemic was still peaking and we were in lockdown, The Children’s Book Bank decided to open their patio to give away free books for kids. It was a sight to behold when parents and kids lined up on the otherwise quiet Bleeker Street (obeying the social distancing rules) to collect books. There were smiles, hellos, and thank you exchanged through the masks and enough books and joy to go around for kids of all ages. The book bank is the reason that all kids in St. James Town are never left wanting for books….every home has a little kid’s library.
Being able to safely bring home a bag full of new books for my kid during the lockdown meant that we could keep at least one thing constant in our lives…that kids must always have books to read.
St. James Town
This neighborhood is a living, dynamic, and a melting pot of all cultures. I have spent two years in another part of the town and never knew what to make of this neighborhood before I started living here. The first thing that strikes you is people moving around in their traditional attire, conversing in the language of their homeland, and radiating a warmth that reminds you of the home left behind. Here, I have a friend who delivers a hot steaming bowl of rasam for my sore throat. Another one, who would travel for hours in a TTC to buy the perfect gift for my son’s birthday. Friends, who would take care of my baby at a second’s notice with all the love their heart can muster when I had received an urgent call from my son’s school to pick him up as he had been sick. I am quoting these few instances but they have happened numerous times and in every single instance I have received unquestioning and unqualified support from my neighbors, who became friends and now are the only relations my kids know and love. This culture of helping each other, supporting one another in crisis, and caring for your neighbors’ kids as if it were your own makes this my home, a place where I can bring up my kids.
The saying is that you need a village to bring up a kid and St. James Town is that village.