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Groups raise funds for refugees

December 5th, 2015 · No Comments

Organizations working with Lifeline Syria, Canadian Druze Society

St. Thomas’s Anglican Church parishioner Tina J. Park (right) and friend Sowon Kim serve three flavours of fruit punch during a parish hall reception following the church’s Voices of Refuge fundraising concert. Photo courtesy Julia Armstrong

St. Thomas’s Anglican Church parishioner Tina J. Park (right) and friend Sowon Kim serve three flavours of fruit punch during a parish hall reception following the church’s Voices of Refuge fundraising concert. Photo courtesy Julia Armstrong

By Summer Reid

The Annex is a hive of activity as members of local churches, community organizations, and grassroots groups buzz with activities aimed at raising money to support the upcoming influx of Syrian refugees. Their efforts are culminating just as the federal government has outlined #WelcomeRefugees, its plan for settling 25,000 people from the war-torn country in Canada by the end of February, and private sponsorship is critical to meeting that goal.

“It’s part of our identity as Canadians; it’s part of our identity as Christians as well,” said Father Mark Andrews, the rector of St. Thomas’s Anglican Church (383 Huron St.), of sponsoring refugees. His church hosted Voices of Refuge, a November fundraising event of performances from local choir groups that included a reception featuring soups from Soup for Syria.

St. Thomas’s choir member Julia Meadows thought it was a fantastic idea to do a concert to raise funds to sponsor a family.

“It’s really great to see communities rising up, especially around this time of year,” said Meadows. “It’d be great if more groups, even secular organizations, were doing things like this.”

In fact, Howland Avenue residents Libbie Mills and Chris Wright are doing just that.

They are participating with Ryerson University — which is working with Lifeline Syria — to raise $65,000 to support a family of 12 from rural Syria.

“They’re currently in a refugee camp in Jordan and they’ve already been assessed by the Canadian government as high need,” explained Mills during a Nov. 12 meeting held by the Annex Residents’ Association. “[The family will be] brought here within six to eight weeks as permanent residents.”

Mills and Wright have raised nearly $2,000 from selling cookies on Sunday afternoons at Bloor Street and Howland Avenue, in addition to having received nearly $1,000 from direct donations. They are also planning other fundraising events like a film night and a Jan. 8 event at the Tranzac Club (292 Brunswick Ave.).

Another local group, the Palmerston Community Welcomes Refugees, has already exceeded its fundraising goal of $35,000 and raised $45,231, which is enough money to sponsor a family of six. The neighbourhood group, which has partnered with the Mennonite Central Committee, is also “developing a settlement plan to help welcome this family, orient them to life in their new community, secure housing, employment, navigate the healthcare and education systems, and access any other necessary services”.

“It doesn’t take much for someone to push a button to donate online and we are a community that loves to give,” wrote Palmerston’s Monica Gupta in an email.

Although local residents seem to be overwhelmingly in support of welcoming refugees to Canada, some have expressed concerns that security will be sacrificed in favour of speed.

“I think, obviously, the more the better, because it’s a really dire situation,” said Evelyn (who did not provide her full name) at St. Thomas’s Voices of Refuge. “But I wrote a letter to [the prime minister] saying that national security is also very important, so not to rush to honour his election promise because I don’t think Canadians will hold him to that.”

However, by the time they arrive here, most refugees will have been vetted by Canadian government officials as well as by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

And, as Ellen Woolaver of the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre explained, refugees assisted by her organization are often sponsored by three distinct parties: the centre, those sponsoring the refugee(s), and a church or community organization like the Canadian Druze Society.

“The Druze are a small ethnic group within Syria, and [in Canada] they have a community group, a community, and assets,” said Woolaver. “They are willing to sign applications for [Syrian families].”

She added that there are three types of refugee sponsorship: private, government-assisted, and the Blended Visa Referred Program. For the last category, which is new, the government matches groups who want to sponsor refugees with high-need UNHCR-registered refugees, and provides half of the necessary funds.

For further information on the government’s refugee plan, please visit www.cic.gc.ca/english/refugees/welcome. Email Monica Gupta to donate to the Palmerston Community Welcomes Refugees at mongupta@hotmail.com, and Libbie Mills at libbie.mills@ utoronto.ca to donate to Howland Refugee Support.

Gleaner News was a sponsor of Voices of Refuge.

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