west lodge food bank

Toronto tenants start food bank to help out struggling neighbours

Many tenants throughout Toronto have been struggling to get by over the past nine months as a result of financial difficulties created and exacerbated by the pandemic, and that's why residents of one Parkdale building decided to create their own food bank to help out their neighbours in these difficult times. 

Paterson Hodgson lives in the apartments at 103-105 West Lodge Ave. in Parkdale, and she told blogTO that tenants from the building and around the neighbourhood have been organizing and advocating for rent relief and against evictions since March

"We knew Parkdale had been hit hard with job losses. Back in the summer, as part of our outreach to expand the organizing, we did some tabling in the neighbourhood where we gave away food, as well as information about tenant organizing," said Hodgson.

"When the fall hit, it became really clear to me that folks in my building were struggling and things were probably only going to get worse. The tabling in the summer was so successful both in supporting my neighbours and building my relationships with them, it made sense to try and keep it going."

So, Hodgson and some other volunteers from the building created the West Lodge Food Bank and held their very first food pick-up day on Nov. 14.

Since then, they've held it a total of three times with a goal of continuing to run it every two weeks.

The food bank is run by roughly five to 10 volunteers, depending on the week, and Hodgson said they also get support from teachers at Parkdale Elementary School across the street as well as a group of West Lodge youths that help out.

Donations come from the community, mostly from posting in Facebook groups and word of mouth, according to Hodgson, and people can also now donate money via PayPal through their new website.

Currently, the food bank is first come, first served, and people are required to line up in order to get what they need, but Hodson said they may change the format if they can get some storage and a space to work with.

"We estimate around 30-60 households are lining up each week," she said. "That means we could be serving as many as 300 people."

The apartments at 103-105 West Lodge Ave. have long been low-income, said Hodgson, but tenants' situations have gotten siginificantly worse thanks to COVID-19, and she said it doesn't help that landlord Hazelview (formerly Timbercreek Communities) has not agreed to collectively communicate with residents about issues such as rent relief and repayment plans.

"Many folks used food banks before COVID, but the pandemic has certainly impacted people's ability to afford food and rent. I've personally lost more than 80 per cent of my income and it's difficult to say when that will change for me — this is the case for many of my neighbours," she said.

"Parkdale has been hit hard with job losses, but we're also seeing an increase in costs. If someone gets sick, or needs to quarantine, that can have a big impact on income and costs. Prices of everyday goods are higher, TTC sometimes doesn't feel safe so transportation costs might go up, we no longer have access to second-hand shops, it's more difficult to find the things we need at prices that work for us."

To help struggling tenants during these challenging times, Hodgson said she thinks landlords should forgive rent, negotiate rent forgiveness with anyone who cannot pay during COVID-19 and commit to no evictions throughout the pandemic.

"Landlords can afford to forgive rent," she said. "There is no reason that working class tenants should shoulder the burden of this crisis while landlords increase their profits and secure their investments. Our landlord is a $10-billion company."

Hodgson's calls resemble those expressed by tenants and advocates all over the city, as many have been calling on the province to reinstate the residential eviction ban that expired in the summer.

This also comes as the Landlord Tenant Board is in the process of a controversial eviction "blitz," and more and more residents are being pushed into homelessness amid an already dire affordability and housing crisis.

But while the provincial government has yet to act on the demands of tenant organizers, at least renters at 103-105 West Lodge Ave. have their neighbours to thank for helping to put food on the table when many need it most.

"We know people are choosing to pay rent over food and other household necessities. I see it, I hear about it," said Hodgson. 

"Every week, more people show up. Everyone who works on running the food bank usually also takes home items — this initiative isn't charity, it's tenants helping each other and themselves."

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