Twenty-five organizations in the GTA received the Toronto Community Champion Award on March 20 for their contributions to the community during the past three pandemic years.
The city recognized them for their perseverance and commitment toward Toronto and its vulnerable groups. The awards were presented at the Toronto Reference Library.
Two east-end institutions among the winners in the city-wide category were The Neighbourhood Group and Woodgreen Community Services.
“It’s just a real testament to the hard work and dedication of our staff that were committed to the common wellbeing during the pandemic,” said Anne Babcock, president and CEO of Woodgreen Community Services.
Woodgreen Community Services was founded in 1937 in Toronto’s east end. Today it’s one of the largest social service agencies in the city, providing support for 37,000 people each year.
Meeting the needs of their communities
Jeffrey Schiffer, director of government relations and strategic innovations at Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, praised the award recipients for their effort during the pandemic in a video for the event.
“What we saw was a group of organizations that rose up within the context of that uncertainty as champions,” he said.
The Neighbourhood Group is composed of three institutions, one of them being Neighbourhood Link Support Services, in East Danforth. The isolation of seniors in the area dates back to 1975, when NLSS was founded to help the elderly live “independently and with dignity in their community.”
Nowadays, TNG offers daycare and youth services, along with community support and employment assistance as well.
The Good Neighbour Project started in the first peak of the pandemic, and built a network of volunteers in 48 hours to support the elderly community that could not go out and buy groceries during the shortage of supplies.
“It [the award] was very heart-warming. It is so well deserved for our team. We have all been through a lot together. Because of the people that we support, we need to have a lot of emotional strength,” said Maduba Ahmad, co-founder and executive director of TGNP.
Ahmad said the project was very organized and virtually done, and that many families in East York utilize their foodbank service. Today it is a registered Canadian charity with an ongoing expansion of programs.
Challenges faced during pandemic
High demand for support and lack of volunteers were the main challenges faced during the beginning of the pandemic. Babcock points out many volunteers before the pandemic were seniors who were afraid to go outside.
“We are currently recruiting new volunteers to make up for the loss. More than half of our volunteers are new, because they had to replace people that could not do it any more,” TNG president Bill Sinclair said.
He points out that before COVID-19, most volunteers who helped out were retired people who could not leave their homes.
The award is part of the initiative Stronger TOgether, which aims to recognize impacts of the pandemic in Toronto.
Funded by the federal government, it was launched in late 2022.
Some of the requirements of the nominations for the award were that institutions needed to be based in Toronto, be comprised of at least three people and be governed by a volunteer board of directors.
Torontonians nominated more than 200 institutions worthy of receiving the award.