Community Contributions: GTA residents working towards supporting Toronto’s vulnerable populations

By: Kabi Moulitharan

Source: Noor Tabassum (co-organizer of the Winter Care Package Initiative)

The Winter Care Package Initiative

Earlier this month, the GTA experienced several days of extreme cold weather. While city officials and forecasters urged folks to stay warm and indoors, during the COVID-19 lockdown, Toronto’s homeless population was limited with options. 

Through WhatsApp, Noor Tabassum, Maleeha Khan, Shafreen Bagha, and Ayesha Irfan discussed the added challenges homeless individuals would encounter during chilly conditions and lockdown measures. Feeling terrible about the circumstances, they wanted to support folks living on the streets. 

Noor Tabassum (top left), Ayeesha Irfan (bottom left), Maleeha Khan (bottom right), and Shafreen Bagha (top right) talk with Kabi about their Winter Care Package Initiative via Zoom.

"A lot of people are struggling when it comes to the pandemic. A lot of people are jobless. A lot of people are struggling economically and a lot of people just entered into homelessness,” says Tabassum. She adds: 


"We are blessed to still be in our homes with most of us working, still getting an education. So we thought this would be a really nice time to help out.”  

Winter accessories and hygiene products included in the Winter Care Packages. // Source: Noor Tabassum
Sandwiches from CocoHot Plate packaged into individual bags. // Source: Noor Tabassum

They decided on assembling care packages. The women set up a Go Fund Me Page to raise money for winter accessories and hygiene products. Their initial goal was to raise $2,500. In a matter of days, they surpassed it. They increased their goal to $5,000. 

“It just hurts sometimes when people are not doing so well and not because it is their fault. Things are out of our control but to know you have the ability to do something and to give back, it’s a satisfying feeling,” says Bagha. 

Their page caught the attention of Shiv Mahendran, a former high school classmate. Mahendran recently started CocoHot, a Tamil fusion cuisine pop-up. He offered to make over 100 of his sandwiches towards the cause. 

“It was very easy for me to say ‘Let me help’,” says Mahendran. “It may help them, save them some time, and they can put their time and focus on the other stuff in the care package.”

Mahendran says he’s compelled to help those who are less fortunate because of his family’s history. 

“My parents are from Sri Lanka. They came to this country from war...And they came here just to start a new life. So, this country has given us so much. We have this house, we have jobs, we have cars, we have food,” he says. “Just because we were given so much growing up especially from my household, I just can’t see people not having food.”

As for these women, working on this initiative gave them an opportunity to reflect. 

“I myself am so grateful and not everyone is at this place. If I can do something to stop worrying about my life for one second, I can really look at what else is going on around me,” says Khan. 

Irfan adds “I really hope that other people seeing our cause, our initiative, can encourage people of our age group to do something similar and give back to their community.”

By the end, they raised just over $4,000 and assembled 100 care packages. This past Sunday, the ladies distributed all of their packages in downtown Toronto. 

100 care packages were assembled and distributed in downtown Toronto. // Source: Noor Tabassum

Quick Stats on Homelessness in Toronto

The following statistics were recorded by Fred Victor, an organization working towards ending homelessness.

  • 10,000 + are homeless in Toronto
  • 75% of people experiencing homelessness struggle with mental illness
  • 29% of homeless folks in Toronto are over the age of 51
  • 36% of homeless individuals have been homeless for more than a year

The City of Toronto publishes reports and current data on homelessness.

CocoHot Is More Than Just A Small Business

Learn more about how Shiv Mahendran, founder of CocoHot, is using his love of food to tackle food insecurity. Listen to the first episode of Community Spotlight below. 

Quick Stats on Food Insecurity in Canada

The following data is provided by Statistics Canada (May 2020).

  • One in seven (14.6%) Canadians are believed to be experiencing food-insecurity
  • 9.3% of Canadians had recently accessed free food from community organizations
  • Canadians experiencing food insecurity are more likely to report "fair" or "poor" mental health and report moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety

Kabi Moulitharan

Multimedia Journalist

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