My volunteering experiences in Toronto

St. James Community Town

Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place ” said the poet Rumi. 

I read this quote in one of the offices of Yonge Street Mission, one NGO in Toronto and, among the many motivational quotes hanging on those walls, I found this particularly meaningful for telling the new story.

On the background, one of my favorite small parks here: Allan Garden.

When you move to a new country and there is a global pandemic, connecting with the city will be one of the biggest challenges to be faced, (I understand that this is an extreme situation, but international mobility has not completely stopped: there are many people who have moved in this crazy period). Beyond the restrictions, which stop socialization, even in a pre-covid context, creating a circle of friends and acquaintances that will make you call that place "home”, can be challenging for many.

As some of you know, I recently moved to Toronto but, my work visa is still pending (I talk about it in this video) and I have to wait to be able to work in Canada. To stop is not easy and I struggled to find the romantic side of all this time available.

During the current pandemic I have seen many survival strategies: some who have learned a new language, lost weight, cooked, did yoga, spent time with their family, etc ... 

What worked for me was taking care of others: during the long and first lockdown in Italy, I supported and followed my (then) 12 and 8 year old sisters with their online school and, while I lightened their days a little, they helped me to not give up.

My sisters studying in the sun, in our italian "cortile", among the cars stopped for too long. April 2020. Italy.

Caring for people, relationships, and words is simply my approach to life: my survival strategy and I tried to put it into practice even here in Toronto.

Volunteering.

MY (FIRST) VOLUNTEERING EXPERIENCES IN TORONTO

  1. ST. JAMES COMMUNITY TOWN – THE CORNER: MEAL DELIVERY VOLUNTEER

St. James Town is a neighborhood made up of tall buildings, social housing style (sorry we are in North America, they are real skyscrapers), which is 5 minutes walk from our house. For me, coming from an experience in Dharavi (India), one of the largest slums in the world, reading that S. James Town is the most densely populated neighborhood in Canada, makes me smile a little, but it's the truth of this huge country, which has just over half of the citizens of Italy. 

St. James Town on Google Maps. As you can see it's a very small neighborhood.

Canada is certainly not a poor country but in a big city like Toronto, not everyone enjoys the same opportunities and lifestyle, and if you ever go there, you will also see several people living in the streets. The area of St. James Town is mainly inhabited by immigrants and families with less financial resources. 

It sounds bad to say but I've always been fascinated by contexts that present themselves as "the other side of the coin”, especially if they are urban (my obsession with Mumbai is the clearest proof!).

In November I started collaborating with the organization "The Corner", which provides a set of services and aids to the citizens of the area: with a focus on young people and the elderly, dealing with health, job, skills, and other typical services of the third sector.

A world within a block" - is the moto of theneighborhoodand, entering only one of these buildings, you immediately realize it. I can see the cultural and social variety present simply by waiting for these immense elevators that carry the elderly, young people, drug addicts, immigrants, dogs, madmen, delivery guys and even me. 

At the entrace of "The Corner" - also cover photo.
St. James Town with snow.

Twice a week, I deliver lunch to some people, mostly elderly people who, for different reasons, are not able to have it by themselves.

The food is cooked by volunteers at one of the organization's offices and, every day, at least 3 people take care of distributing it. We are given these large backpacks, delivery food type, with whom we carry the food. We are careful to allergies and intolerances, and preferences as much as possible. The round of deliveries can last 30 minutes or two hours, depending on the days. You walk a lot, and I must say that I have firmed up my backside and, incredible but true: you sweat!

Don't you think I am firmer?

Inside the buildings you die of heat, poor Greta Thunberg, and between the walk, the weight of the deliveries and my huge jacket set at -30 °, I literally start dripping. I started tying it at the waist like in middle school but I repeat: the jacket is bigger than me.

The moments with the beneficiaries are for the most part very short. Some of them even take 5 minutes to open the door, others have the automatic one and you don't even see them, who knows where they are hidden?

Lunch for the beneficiaries of the “Meal Delivery” program.

There are simpler situations and some more complex obviously: they are lonely, some literally submerged by things, boxes, memories, clusters of life. Some are shy and silent, while others can't wait to have a chat with you.

M. is always waiting with the door open, you know where his house is even if you don't read it on the list. You have to follow the sound of jazz music that he likes to listen loudly. He takes two portions but I've never seen another person, will it be dinner? I don't know and that's okay. 

C. has oriental origins, and once she asked me if she could photograph me because I reminded her of a Bollywood star. The best compliment ever!

E. and P. come from Peru instead. She jumps up when she sees I'm here because she can talk a few words in Spanish. "Te amo, Jasmin!” she always tells me, after asking me each time if I have children and a husband. 

S. is nasty, nothing suits her, you have to be careful how you answer her because she looks for a reason to fight. I think she likes me.

House 222 is inhabited by an Indian family, from Bangalore, I told them I was in India but they weren't very happy, they didn't give a damn, what a beautiful life lesson!

B. once asked me if I could make a call for him: he told me the number, he knew it by heart: he called LCBO (shop where you buy alcohol!). Damn!

An Indian Rangoli outside the apartment 222.

Some give me chocolate, others a “stay safe, it's cold outside!”, some thank you with their eyes, others close the door in your face. 

Between one delivery and another, I imagine their stories and how much their life may have hurt them but then ...knock, knock!

“Who is it?”

“Meal Delivery!”

“Ok.”

They open the door for me, I'll never know how they ended up in this situation: 

“This is for you!”.

“Thank you” 

I don't have to know.

Some doors in St. James Town.
  1. YONGE STREET MISSION: CHRISTMAS' LITTLE HELPER

Yonge Street Mission is a big Toronto's NGO that deals with inequalities, is extremely organized and also has a beautiful location with offices, reception and meeting rooms. 

With them I did a small volunteer experience, which lasted only 3 days in December 2020, but which left its mark (in the sense that I had stiff neck for an entire week! :D).

Me taking care of my stiff neck and smiling with a popular Indian pose.

YSM wanted SANTA'S LITTLE HELPERS! 

Okay, that's how I told everyone, but unfortunately they didn't make us dress up! 🙁

Fortunately, the organization has many donors, who receive their Christmas' Thank You Cards. Me, the very nice coordinator, and 3 other volunteers spent 3 days packing these letters and sending them to the various donors. If I remember correctly now, I did at least 400, and I was the slowest of all.

I am sorry, the photo isn't great but I don't have others.

In addition, I got pulled into another activity (my friend Eleonora always tells me I say too many yes!): to catalog Christmas' presents for the children of their different programs. In short, open the amazon boxes sent by donors and do the inventory. A lot of work! There were some beautiful gifts, every now and then I had to stop and not open them completely. The NGO organizes a Christmas Market every year, but this year it was not possible to do so. 

Some of the boxes/presents.

Gerald, the volunteer coordinator, is one of those people whose eyes shine talking about life, and he made sure that we were always at ease: creating moments of dialogue, silence and reflection together. It is a Christian organization and we also said a prayer.

It was tiring.

I have undersood how a repetitive work can be hard, in the evening I fell asleep at 21:00, and with pain everywhere. However, it was nice to spend the day with other people, new people, and tell each other a few good things, or just talk about the weather. I had a great impression about the NGO, great professionalism and a sparkling spirit: I would really like to work in such an environment! Indeed, when I can work, I will send my CV to them! Say a little prayer for me! 

  1. BLEECKER/WELLESLEY ACTIVITY NETWORK 

Once a month, this small association, Bleecker/Wellesley Activity Network organizes a senior's lunch event in St. James Town but, with the pandemic, this precious moment of aggregation has stopped. The group of volunteers, coordinated by Laura and Jack, however, meet once a month, and bring directly a good lunch, and some vegetables, to the elderly of the area.

It is an activity that has been going on for 31 years, incredible!

Me and some other volunteers ready for the Christmas delivery.

During the Christmas period it was particularly exciting, because in addition to the usual lunch (a first course, second course, fruit, dessert, and a juice), we also delivered a bag full of small gifts. I also received one, and it was an incredible gesture for me, as I still find it a bit difficult to feel part of the city. Toothpaste, tissue papers, candies, a cloth to open the jars, how much wonder lies in the little things!

Happiness is a simple thing.
Here the Christmas bags!

It makes me smile to think that some of the elders of this program are enrolled in the list of the first NGO I was talking about: that day they will receive double meals! Yeah!

Once we are done with the delivery, they offer us the lunch too.

The organizers of this initiative are elderly too if I am not wrong, friends of Vickie, the one who started all this, who, unfortunately, passed away. Her friends also do it in her memory. A beautiful gesture.

The volunteers I met are very different: many young people, some jobless, others only willing to help. Once, a volunteer said that "food is love"; it seemed like a common thing to say, simple but so true. I liked it.

"I can't wait to tell everything to Shreyank, I am sure he is preparing lunch today".

PERSONAL NOTE:

Not always volunteering is a selfless act. We are selfish, narcissistic and capitalistic humans, but wait, these are not always negative adjectives.

You can dedicate yourself to volunteering because you believe in a different world, in a world that helps those in difficulty, for civic sense and responsibility. You can do this to feel better about yourself, and to feel happy. I do it because I've been for a lifetime to the side of the good ones and, here in Toronto, I also do it to feel more connected to my new city, to get out of the house, meet people, and - why not? - create future job opportunities. 

What was I saying at the beginning?

Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place "

And in doing so, I'm feeling the soul of this place.

These volunteering experiences are part of my strategy of resisting, this blog is another. Thank you for reading this far, I hope you too can find your defense mechanisms while the world waits to be less scary.

USEFUL INFORMATION:

For those who might be interested, I found these opportunities on two sites:

-> Volunteer Toronto

-> Charity Village

I also add this curiosity: for the first two organizations, I had to send my CV, do a short telephone interview and they contacted two of my references. Volunteering is a serious thing 🙂

I take selfies while I wait for the door to open 🙂

2 thoughts on “La mia esperienza di volontariato a Toronto”

  1. Credo tu sia sempre l’anima del posto in cui ti trovi. Basta vedere l’impegno e la passione in quello che fai. Da amica da una vita ti dico per certo che non solo sei l’anima del posto in cui ti trovi, ma aggiungo (con un bel gioco di parole) che tu ANIMI il posto in cui ti trovi non appena ci metti piede! Il tuo entusiasmo è contagioso! Adoro i tuoi racconti, adoro come descrivi i personaggi che incontri e quello che fai. P.S. Le foto delle porte, tra le mie preferite

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