“I’d like to host a family of newcomers at Christmas,” wrote reader Tracey recently, “but can’t seem to find an organization that handles this. Does anyone happen to know of any?”
Ruth writes: I talked with friends who worked in social service agencies. I emailed the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, YMCA, United Way, TO Newcomer Office, Adopt a Family for Thanksgiving, Catholic Children’s Aid, Intercultural Dialogue Institute (which arranges meals for non-Muslim families in Muslim homes during Ramadan), etc. If they did answer, most agreed it was a great idea. But alas, no one offered concrete suggestions.
After much looking, I discovered that the City of Toronto has a referral program which puts people who want to “Adopt a Family for Christmas” in touch with agencies near their own neighbourhoods. It is available every year only from November 1 to December 24. This could mean a donation or toys and food for children in one family. I hoped it might mean inviting a newcomer family to share your Christmas dinner.
I tried Scadding Community Centre’s Newcomer Services. This Dundas-Bathurst Street centre only provides information about services to newcomers. It couldn’t put anyone in touch with individual families.
If you are interested, you can try other community centres through the city’s referral service yourself. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Chris Cacciotti is Caseworker, Christmas Referral and Information Services, Toronto Employment and Social Services, Metro Hall – 55 John Street, 11th floor. 416-397-9091. She is available 8:30am-4:30pm, Monday to Friday. She can put you in touch with community centres in your own neighbourhood.
I suspected that it’s very complicated and time consuming for agencies to make this kind of arrangement and maybe generous people like Tracey might better spend their Christmas season volunteering at a Community Centre and getting to know some newcomers first.
Then I happened to meet a Palestinian refugee who told me about Sojourn House which offers temporary housing for refugees at 101 Ontario Street. Tel. 416-864-9136. Dan at extension 240 said yes and to tell him if you want to invite a woman, a family, or whomever. I would also ask him about transportation for the family, appropriate gifts, language problems, and food preferences. Its website is: http://www.sojournhouse.org/.
Syrian refugees have already started arriving in Ontario. More will be arriving by Christmas. Hopefully their own sponsoring groups will organize some special Christmas celebration for them. Many of these newcomers will be Muslim. Many host groups will not be. For those unaware of Muslim customs, it will be an interesting learning experience. For example, as gifts, many of the older women might prefer long skirts to trousers. Some but not all will prefer to follow strict halal food guidelines.
Fortunately for the newcomers, Toronto already has a lot of stores and supermarkets suitable for Middle Eastern and South Asian tastes. You probably know some Muslims already who can give advice on halal and gift ideas. You might introduce a newly-arrived strictly-halal family to a Middle-Eastern supermarket where they can get halal meat and cheese. You might have to drive them there as most are in oursprawling suburbs.
Of course, big supermarket chains such as Loblaw’s also sell halal meat but the following will have cuts of meat, brands and especially spices that newcomers are used to. Some of these have cooked foods and bake shops where you can eat. If these stores are new to you, you might want to browse yourself at the huge offerings of olive oils, cheeses, olives and varieties of baklava and ice cream.
Iqbal Halal Foods, 2 Thorncliffe Park Dr #5-15, East York, ON M4H 1H2. (416) 467-0177. http://iqbalhalalfoods.com/. This one looks like a warehouse.
Marché Adonis Mississauga, 1240 Eglinton Avenue West, Mississauga, Ontario, L5V 1N3. email@example.com. and Marché Adonis Scarborough, 20 Ashtonbee Rd., Scarborough, ON M1L 3K9. firstname.lastname@example.org.These are huge stores.
Arz Fine Foods, 1909 Lawrence Avenue East, Scarborough, ON. M1R 2Y6. Tel: (416) 755-5084. http://www.arzfinefoods.com/. Our blog about this supermarket is on: http://bit.ly/1Xuuev.
Al Kuds Town and Country Market, 3355 Hurontario Street, Mississauga and 3885 Duke of York Blvd., Mississauga. http://www.kuds.ca/.
I have yet to find clothing stores to recommend aside from those found at Middle Eastern festivals. Later next year will be annual events like the Halal Festival, Muslim Womenpreneurs, Muslimfest and Eid celebrations. These have clothes, jewellery, children’s books, etc. We have blogs here about all of these.
Please let us know of other places Middle Eastern newcomers and their hosts will find helpful. We will publish a list of other resources later. Subscribe to our newsletter above which will inform you of future blogs on the subject. Stay tuned.