Syrian refugee donations overwhelm Nova Scotia drop-off organizers

Nova Scotia's Emergency Management Organization said it's overwhelmed by the donations that have been made for Syrian refugee families who will be arriving in the province.

Nearly 5,000 bags of clothes have been donated with tens of thousands of articles of clothing

The Emergency Management Office says the goal is to give the drop-off centre the feeling of a store, so it becomes a space where refugees can choose their items with dignity. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

From clothes to diapers, household cleaning supplies and entire furniture sets, Nova Scotia's Emergency Management Organization says it's overwhelmed with the donations that have come in for Syrian refugee families within the first week of operation at the province's drop-off centre.

Nearly 5,000 stuffed bags of clothing now line the floor of the former Rona store in Bayers Lake, which was donated by developers to be used for the drop-off centre.

When it opened, Dominic Fewer, a planner with the Emergency Management Organization, said they thought the vacant building would be too large.

Now the question is whether it will be big enough. 

"When we first went into the facility and looked at the size, we went, 'This is a big facility for what we are trying to do here' and the facility here now is full," he said.

"The generosity of Nova Scotians is overwhelming."

Volunteers are in the process of sorting the donations that have come in. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

They need hangers

The volunteers are under a deadline now. Dozens of them are sorting the bags' contents, nearly all of which are good quality. In some cases, Fewer said, people have gone out and purchased new goods to donate.

He said until they sort through the items, they have no idea what they need and don't need — except for hangers. They definitely need those.

"We're in the process now of shelving, putting clothes on shelving on sizes and then hanging things on the racks," he said.

The space is slowly being transformed into the look of a real store. Halifax Regional Search and Rescue volunteers came in on Sunday and built shelving to help with the storage.

Fewer says the goal is to create a space where refugees can choose their items with dignity. He doesn't want them digging through bins or bags to pick out their new clothes.

Nearly 5,000 stuffed bags of clothing now line the floor of the former Rona store, which was donated by developers to be used for the centre. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

About 60 volunteers are helping to sort the donations and Fewer said they expect it will be the first week of January before that task is finished.

It isn't just clothing, either. Fewer said 500 to 600 pieces of "hard furniture" have been brought in, including tables and chairs, dressers, bed frames and kitchen supplies.

"It's just incredible to see the amount of stuff that has come in," he said. "We've got toys, we've got bikes, we've got strollers — things that will definitely be of value to our new Nova Scotians when they arrive." 

Generosity continues

The location will be open to collect donations on Tuesday and Thursday of this week, then again on Dec. 29.  Fewer said after that, the group will reassess whether it needs to open on the dates scheduled in January because the donations have come in so quickly.

On days the facility has been closed, people are still donating piles of bags, leaving them at the front door. Fewer is asking people not to do that because with the unpredictable winter weather, he doesn't want the items to be destroyed if they're left outside overnight.

Any items they don't need will be passed to other agencies — including the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia — to help refugees from other countries.


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