West Island Assistance Fund flooded with donated toys after fire

After putting out a call for help Tuesday morning, the West Island Assistance Fund has more than enough toys to distribute to the 100 of so families on its list.

'We were crying,' says spokesperson, who estimates nearly 1,000 toys were donated

Piles of toys were dropped off at three different locations, ensuring the West Island Asssistance Fund will be able to continue its annual tradition of giving away new toys for Christmas. (CBC)

After putting out a call for help Tuesday morning, the West Island Assistance Fund now has more than enough toys to distribute to the 100 or so families on its client list.

"We are all shocked," said Nathalie Béland, a spokesperson for the organization, who estimated that Montrealers came through with nearly 1,000 new toys.

"We were crying over there and saying that's impossible. In less than 48 hours, we received all these toys. It's unbelievable — the generosity of people."

The organization lost all of its new, donated toys in Monday's devastating fire that destroyed its headquarters

Located in the Montreal borough of Pierrefonds-Roxboro, the West Island Assistance Fund (WIAF) has been helping families and individuals in need for more than 50 years, offering food relief and other services.

Its annual tradition to collect new toys for Christmas — toys that are donated by businesses and individuals throughout the year.

The toys are then gifted to families on WIAF's client list, with each child getting around seven toys.

'We have enough,' Béland says

The day after the fire, the organization set up three drop-off locations and asked the community to donate toys for babies and children up to six years old.

People, businesses and even municipalities stepped up to help.

Michael Labelle, chair of the WIAF board, spent the day in the organization's temporary office Wednesday, keeping operations moving while the donations poured in.

Among those donations was a cheque for $5,000 from one company, he said.

"The City of Kirkland came in, the mayor himself showed up, Michel Gibson, and dropped off a donation of $1,000," said Labelle. "That all helps."

Boxes of brand-new toys were dropped off Wednesday, as residents, businesses and even municipalities offered support. (CBC)

Martine Pujos was one of many who felt inclined to help. She took a break from work to bring over some toys.

"I saw on the news that the centre burned down with all the toys so obviously I felt bad," she said. "I'm sure a lot of people did." 

"I want to make sure all the kids get something for Christmas."

WIAF begin handing out the toys next Monday, right on schedule. In fact, the organization has too many now, and will give some to other organizations.

"We don't want to be overwhelmed with gifts and not knowing what to do with them," Béland said. "We have enough."

The toys will be distributed in the Gerry-Robertson Community Centre, she said, but staff will first need to notify clients that the annual event is back on.

To ensure everybody gets a toy, the distribution may take a day longer than planned, she said.

Scrambling to rebuild

Béland said the WIAF is also getting its food baskets ready for the holidays, continuing operations despite the devastating fire. 

The WIAF's food bank is located a block away from the burnt-out office and was spared, but everything else is gone, including computers, telephones, servers and records.

Michael Labelle, chair of the board, was busy at his temporary desk Wednesday, working to get the West Island Assistance Fund back on its feet. (CBC)

The agency's thrift shop, also on the office premises, accounted for about half of the organization's revenue, and there are still concerns about where WIAF's funding will come from in the coming months, with the thrift store gone.

As that gets sorted out, staff have been scrambling to get everything back up and running with the help of the borough and partnering organizations.

Béland said people have been donating office supplies such as computers and printers, as well. She gave a "big thanks to everybody" for offering a helping hand, especially with the holidays just around the corner.


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