Where do you meet these people?
This was the question my neighbour asked me when she dropped off a donation for a new refugee. “Everywhere. You do, too.” was my simple answer. I laughed and added, “I’m just a little pushier than you are.”
Years ago, I asked the receptionist about some notes on her desk about rooms to rent. She told me that she and her boyfriend were new to Canada and the place where they were renting a room was not nice. I pointed out that an apartment cost about the same (back then) and she told me that they didn’t have any ‘stuff’. I assured her that I could get ‘stuff’. I told her that I had done the same thing for a refugee and her son a few years before and found it very rewarding.
I asked her to write up a list of what she wanted. She didn’t. I reminded her a week later and asked if she needed help to create the list. We took our lunch break together that day and we wrote up the list. She told me that she didn’t want to bother me. “Hogwash”, I said. I put feelers out to a few friends. One told me that her mother-in-law had died, and the family had already taken what they wanted. We could come take a look through the house and have whatever we wanted.
The receptionist and her boyfriend went on their own to choose the pieces they wanted, and they rented an apartment. We crossed off most of the things on our original list. Her boyfriend played volleyball on a team and that team organized the move. We made a new list. I asked around about our new and improved list and found the smaller things through my loose connections. They bought a few things to personalize the look of their first apartment.
Once they were settled, they invited me over for dinner. I still remember how good that apartment looked. She had a sense of style and she put all these bits together to create a cosy home. They moved a couple of times over their 12 years here and kept some of those core pieces and mixed and matched as they earned more money. They were able to gift some of those original pieces to other people they knew before they moved back home to raise their first child.
The most recent refugee that I’m supporting arrived with nothing. She had been living in a women’s shelter for 5 months when I was introduced to her to discuss her small business idea. She was using the computer at the local library for our Zoom meeting. As we talked, her story emerged. I offered some feedback on her business idea and asked to meet with her in a month. We set up another Zoom meeting and set some modest business goals. She mentioned that she was looking for a church and I was able to direct her to one that I knew she would enjoy.
She texted me a week later to let me know that she had secured a small apartment. I asked her what she needed and invited her to make a list. She didn’t. I asked around and found a spare bed that someone wanted to clear out of the basement. I took a chance and asked if she wanted a bed. When I look it over, I also took a large suitcase packed with random kitchen things. I also brought a few plant cuttings, newly potted. She was delighted.
I recommended a course for women trying to find employment and she took it, even though she hasn’t yet been given permission to work. They allowed her to pick out business clothes and gave her a refurbished laptop! She is thrilled.
I asked again for a list of what she wanted. She believed me and texted me a list. I’ll deliver this ‘stuff’ this week with a few other items. What we need and what we want are different lists. The friend who asked ‘Where do you meet these people’ dropped off a few extra things last night. She had just cleared out a seniors’ home and had a brand-new jewelry box and some picture frames and Pyrex pans. These were not on the list but will probably be welcomed. If not, she may be able to pass them along to another person who is taking the course or someone in her building.
I’m writing an online course about how to do this type of thing for the people you meet - how to ask for that list a couple of times and in different ways, how to take a risk and drop off some obvious things that may be needed, how to ask around to find those things that they need. It’s quite straightforward. There’s lots of items available.
Baby boomers are downsizing (and dying) and there’s lots of ‘stuff’ to be re-distributed. Marie Kondo is guiding us to get rid of the things that don’t spark joy for us. Why fill our land with functional things that could be redistributed? There are so many ways to pass these things along. You can donate to the local thrift store where they will be sold to others. You can sell these things online.
In Toronto, you can now donate to Ukrainian refugees. They can choose these things at no charge to start their new life in Canada. Please call 416-626-5100 before you go to make sure that they want these specific things. You can drop off donations on Mondays from 10 am to 3 pm or Wednesdays from 3:00 pm to 8:00 pm at The Ukrainian Canadian Parachute @ 160 North Queen Street (Etobicoke). Another drop-off location is in North York at 150 Bridgeland Avenue, Suite 104.
Another place in Toronto to donate functional furniture items is the Furniture Bank. There is a charge for pick up, but you can drop off things at no charge on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 am to 1:00 pm. You need to fill in a form on their website to secure a time to drop off as they have limited space to process drop offs. Check their website, www.furniturebank.org to secure your appointment.
Test out a few of these ideas. If you meet someone who you feel needs a little support, ask what they need or want. Make a list with them. It might be a short one or a long one. Remind yourself that you are not promising to provide these things. Post something on your social media or send an e-mail out to a few friends. Take the risk. There is strength in our loose connections. Most people want to help, given the opportunity. A few friends have even convinced a hoarding relative to donate one thing for a person in need. Now that’s a win-win situation!
Elizabeth Verwey founded Grow at Your Pace and will be presenting a round table discussion on this topic in the new year for CAWEE members.