by Sahar Ashraf
“People are just going to be starving out there,” said Tara Johnston, one of the many people who will struggle to find a place to eat once the Red Cross at the corner of Markham and Eglinton shuts its doors in April 2018.
The not-for-profit’s food bank opened two years ago and finally provided some relief to people living in poverty in the neighbourhood. Members line up at the food bank every Saturday to take home a bag of groceries, which may include eggs, bread, juice, cereal, milk, potatoes, frozen vegetables and even meat.
The Red Cross also serves lunch every day, and dinner on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
“When it closes, it’s going to affect people big time,” said Andrea Scott, who depends on the food bank. “There are huge line ups down the street, all the way from Markham, down Eglinton past the Money Mart.”
Scott and Johnston say people in need have few other options for food. The local grocery store, Metro, is too expensive. Christ Church on Markham Road hosts a community meal, but only once a month. Otherwise, they need to travel nearly three kilometres to Saint Vincent de Paul, a Catholic organization that gives out $30 Metro gift cards once every three months.
BASICS requested a statement from the staff at Red Cross, but was told by the manager that there’s a waiting list of seven weeks to speak with him for urgent matters, and 14 weeks for non-urgent matters.
Residents are left to guess as to why these essential services are being taken away from them.
“They keep reminding us, ‘You know we’re closing right?’,” said Scott. “[Red Cross] is moving overseas, that’s what they keep saying. People here are upset and out of luck.”
Apart from the food bank, the Red Cross offers many other services, like health card renewals, a general nurse who visits every week, a clothing bank and recreational programs.
“I was told by somebody working at Red Cross that the city was going to parcel out some of the services to other community organizations when it closes,” said Pastor Pam of Christ Church. “But the people that use Red Cross don’t have the funds to go to other centres. That wouldn’t be helpful.”
The centre’s closure will leave a painful vacuum in the neighbourhood, and the community is scrambling to fill the void. Agincourt Community Services Agency is about to submit a proposal to take over for the Red Cross, but it will likely be unable to offer the same diversity of services.
As helpful as community services and donations are, the issue remains that so many people are so poor that they become completely dependent on them to survive.
Scott and Johnston, like many others in the neighborhood, receive financial assistance from the government because of their disabilities. But the money barely covers living expenses, which is why they have come to rely on food banks.
“In our neighbourhood, poverty is an issue,” said Pastor Pam. “Food scarcity is an issue. There are many vulnerable people that have different situations that make them vulnerable. Some people had jobs, but then they got sick, or got into an accident. I know of someone who had to leave the the workforce to take care of an elderly mother. There are people with mental health issues, and new immigrants. There’s a broad spectrum of people with a lot of needs and they fall through the cracks because they just don’t have enough money to make ends meet.”