“Neighbour Helping Neighbour” – Residents of 77 Howard Street Work with CREW on COVID-19 Food Delivery
CREW(Community Resilience to Extreme Weather ) was set up in 2014 in response to the 2013 ice storm which caused a number of blackouts throughout Toronto. The aim of CREW is to unite, support and train communities, enabling them to respond to emergency events. The philosophy driving the organisation is “neighbours helping neighbours”. Prior emergency situations in St James Town have showed that greater community spirit and neighbourly support is required to ensure that all members of the community – especially those who are isolated, may not speak English, or are less mobile – get the support they need.
77 Howard Street has been designed as a model for the implementation of “Floor Captains” – a system where CREW recruits one resident volunteer per floor. A three hour training session is conducted in collaboration with the City of Toronto’s Office of Emergency Management. This teaches prospective volunteers about the current extreme weather climate and they are advised on what to do in different emergency scenarios, instructed in the formulation of emergency plans and kits, and vitally, educated on the importance of engaging their neighbours in a safe and non-intrusive manner. It is this short yet crucial training that has proved so vital in times of crisis.
After two years of working in St. James Town, CREW’s Community Animator, Lidia Ferreira, became known to The Corner. Fast forward to 2020 and COVID-19 strikes. An unprecedented emergency which has resulted in increased collaboration between agencies working to tackle the emerging issues. The Corner reached out to Lidia, asking for help to deliver donated bags of groceries to residents in need at 77 Howard. CREW’s small group of trained volunteers suddenly became hugely valuable assets. They were aware of several isolated residents who would benefit from food boxes. With advice from the volunteers, Lidia made a list of these residents and, in total, 80 boxes of food have now been delivered over three rounds of deliveries. What is clear is that this organisation, set-up primarily to deal with weather-related emergencies, has been able to adapt to the changing circumstances of COVID-19. 77 Howard’s resilience has shown that a small number of people, if organized in advance, can make a real difference in an emergency.
The CREW team are in constant communication with each other and the rest of the building through WhatsApp and posters. Through their collaboration with The Corner, CREW has met more residents, assessed additional needs, and mobilized more volunteers. New ideas are now emerging to continue our joint community efforts to create more green spaces in St. James Town, either for relaxation or for gardening. CREW plans to extend its work to other towers in the neighbourhood.
Lidia calls for the model of floor captains to be incorporated into all of the city’s high-rises, turning disconnected units into “vertical villages” to inspire greater care for humanity. COVID-19 has revealed that, now more than ever, collaboration between residents and agencies is necessary to ensure fast results for those who need support. This is what “neighbour helping neighbour” is all about.