Shawn and I live just a few minutes away from St. Jamestown in Toronto, so it definitely hit home when we heard about the terrible fire there on Friday. While our apartment is just a two minute walk from the one where the fire hit, we actually have very little contact with St. Jamestown at all. It’s like a community unto itself, one of the most densely-populated areas in North America and housing many lower income families and people in need of public housing. While our comfy co-op is just blocks away, we rarely have any reason to go into that neighbourhood.
When the fire hit, I was on my way home, but I didn’t even realize it was happening. It’s not uncommon to see emergency vehicles in St. Jamestown and I didn’t smell smoke or see anything in the distance. When my best friend called to see if we were OK – she had heard the cross-streets on the news – I was sitting down to watch some TV after a busy workday. I looked out the window and still didn’t see any smoke coming from the white buildings clearly visible from my front door, so I thought maybe it was just a small fire.
It wasn’t until hours later when I saw the masses of emergency vehicles still blocking our street that the reality really sunk in. This was a major incident. When we learned that 1200-1700 people were forced to leave their homes because of the fire we were shocked. These are the most vulnerable people in our city – the poor, the disabled, new immigrants. They live in public housing and many left their apartments with just the clothes on their backs.
A friend posted on Facebook that there was a need for toothpaste and other personal hygiene products and that really struck me. I can’t imagine being left without even a toothbrush! We went through the house and collected all the spare toiletries that we had – anything unopened went into a bag. We took the bag, along with a bag of food donations, and went over to the Community Centre across the street, where the victims of the fire were living.
It was such an eye-opener. People were everywhere. Many were huddled together smoking out front, others were lined up for medical attention. We took our donations to one area and were thanked so much for the toiletries, which were badly needed. We had to take our food donations into the gym. Usually, the gym is full of kids playing ball or adults doing fitness classes, on Saturday it was full of people laying on tiny cots or lining up for pizza. There were children playing, but it was heartbreaking to know that they had nowhere else to go that night – for now, this gym was home.
We went home and I sent out requests on my Facebook page and to friends at work, asking them to please consider donating. I called our friends downstairs and asked them to see what they had on hand. I wanted to do anything I could to help these people. Now, knowing that many of them will not be able to go home for days and possible weeks, I am even more determined to help.
And I hope you will consider doing so. These are people with no where else to go – no family to take them in, no money for a hotel… they are our neighbours and they need our help. These are the times when even the smallest things can make a huge difference.