A group of Ontario firefighters is running a food drive for unhoused asylum seekers in the Greater Toronto Area with the help of a grocery store chain.
The Allied Firefighters of Canada, a group of racialized firefighters, says it has teamed up with Sobeys Inc. to put on the food drive at a FreshCo grocery store located at Bramalea City Centre, a shopping mall in Brampton.
Randy Narine, an executive member of the Allied Firefighters of Canada and a Brampton firefighter, said the food drive, which started on Friday, will run for at least two weeks. Customers have already paid for more than 100 bags.
“Most of us were immigrants or refugees ourselves. I myself came here on refugee status many, many moons ago, so I know all too well what they’re going through,” Narine told CBC Toronto this week.
Customers can buy donation bags, filled with such items as food and personal hygiene products, for $5 or $10. The firefighters, who are working with churches and shelters to identify what the asylum seekers need, will then collect the bags and distribute them every Monday. The first load was taken to Revivaltime Tabernacle church in North York.
Narine said if the campaign works at the Bramalea location, it will be rolled out to other locations in the GTA. FreshCo is owned by Sobeys Inc. He said the campaign is the first of its kind for the group.
Ryan Agard, president of the Allied Firefighters of Canada and an acting district fire chief in Brampton, said the group hopes the asylum seekers feel support and love from the firefighters.
“We just want to show ourselves, first of all, as human beings, and then second of all, as people of different communities, saying that we all come together and we’re all one and welcome to Canada. And this is from from us and from the beautiful citizens of Brampton,” he said.
In a statement on Tuesday, Peel Region said it is supporting more than 300 asylum seekers and families and the number grows daily. It said its shelter system is at 164 per cent occupancy. Historically, it said asylum seekers made up five to seven per cent of the shelter population but now they make up 40 per cent.
“While we cannot comment on specific numbers of asylum seekers currently staying at our emergency shelters, we are closely monitoring the situation and are pursuing innovative and sustainable long-term solutions to support refugees and Peel residents needing a safe place to stay,” the region said in the statement.
Jason Richardson, manager of Freshco at Bramalea City Centre, said every bag has something different in it depending on what the asylum seekers need. Many include pasta sauce, pudding, canned vegetables and pasta.
On its website, the Allied Firefighters of Canada says it strives to educate and to provide support to an “all-inclusive” group of people in fire services. Through ongoing education and political action, it says it “strives to promote diversity, equality and a healthy network environment for firefighters of all under represented groups.”
Narine said the group works to support racialized firefighters, to connect with ethnic communities, to educate fire services on how to connect better with their ethnic communities and to break down barriers that prevent racialized people from becoming firefighters.