East-end clothing bank opens doors to Syrian refugees

Toronto’s largest clothing bank is showing its support for Syrian refugees arriving in the city.

New Circles, located on Bartley Drive, looks to welcome newly arrived families with donations of free clothing for up to two years. According to a press release, not only will families receive quality clothing, they can also access social programs, language tutoring and training opportunities offered at no cost by the organization.

“People are making financial donations. We have had a large number of individuals from across the city, within East York as well as outside our catchment area, coming in and dropping of donations of warm clothing, and clothing for boys and men which we are often short of,” executive director Alykhan Suleman says of the community response to the initiative.

Since 2005, the non-profit volunteer organization has been offering clothing donations, and skills building programs to residents in Thorncliffe Park, Flemingdon Park and Victoria Village, where majority of residents are refugees. The service, GLOW (Gently Loved Outfits to Wear), runs like a retail department store, and distributes free clothing to over 8,500 people each year.

“We are not a settlement agency. I think it is important to understand that we are providing a service for settlement,” Suleman says. “What we want to do is provide a service that is highly needed. Basic necessities are going to be critical for the settlement and integration of the refugees, be it schooling, clothing and other settlement aspects.”

Suleman says that New Circles is in contact with its partnership agencies, such as Lifeline Syria, that will connect families to the organization through a referral process. “The process is that how and when these families arrive, through whichever path they end up taking (government or private sponsorship), we are extending to these agencies to make a referral of these refugees to our programs,” he explains.

“They can then come down to our organization, and get free, gently-used clothing. They can also register in some of our other programs, such as peer language training, or Friendship Circle for Women, where newcomer women can come and participate,” Suleman continues.

Many refugee families have already been settled in Toronto over the past week, and thousands more are expected to arrive before the end of the year. In anticipation of increased demand, New Circles is now reaching out city-wide for clothing donations.

“I think it is important to give back because we have a responsibility from a humanistic perspective. We are all human beings, we are all connected,” Suleman replies when asked why he believes it is important to give back. “I believe it is a Canadian value that if we are prosperous, it is our responsibility to help those who are in need so they can lift themselves up and improve their lives and the lives of their families.”