Community group roughs it overnight to support Syrian refugees

Event organizer Elizabeth Dove and daughter sit in tent prepared to spend a night sleeping outdoors to raise money for Syrian refugees.
Event organizer Elizabeth Dove and daughter sit in tent prepared to spend a night sleeping outdoors to raise money for Syrian refugees.

When the image of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey, was published, it hit Elizabeth Dove hard.

“There was a burning local need to help, and (there were) people who wanted to do something, but had no idea where to start,” she said. “We have the space; we have the ability and frankly there is a moral imperative.”

Determined to help, the East York resident joined forces with Corey Diamond and organized the Danforth East Community Association’s Sleep Out for Syrians fundraising event. For DECA the idea was a bit of a departure; since its inception in 2007, it has staged weekly farmers’ markets in the summer and annual art fairs.

During the sleep-out event, on lawn of the Church of Resurrection on Woodbine Avenue, sponsors were encouraged to donate $250 per tent, and then sleep in one to approximate the experience of refugees.

“It makes a connection to what it’s really like for a lot of people who are refugees, potentially sleeping in tents at the same time,” Diamond said.

As Diamond and Dove organized the event, they noticed positive things began to happen. Hours before the sleep out, former Afghan refugees arrived and provided campers with dinner; meanwhile Outward Bound, an outdoor education organization, provided winter camping equipment.

“I learned that the community has an enormous heart,” Dove said. “I think I’ve fallen in love with our community many times over in this process.”

Dove wanted the community’s response to include families, so she brought along her daughter to teach her the importance of giving back.

“It’s a great opportunity to (teach our children) about things beyond their immediate reach and about the privilege that we have,” she said. “And in that privilege we have the power to make a difference.”

Sleep Out organizers said the money raised will go to the Neighbourhood Link, one of the groups helping to settle some Syrian refugees arriving in Toronto.

Lorrie Fairburn, the development and marketing manager with the Neighbourhood Link, said the original financial goal was $80,000 to support two families; however, the campaign has already raised $91,000. So, the new goal is to raise $120,000 to possibly help a third family.

Corey Diamond has high hopes for this community initiative.

“I would love to see that after a year that family was given the support that they need (that they’ve)become great citizens of Canada.”