CBC radio listener pledges $250K to Syrian refugee program

An anonymous CBC radio listener has pledged $250,000 to an initiative aimed at bringing Syrian refugee families to Canada after hearing an Etobicoke city councillor issue a challenge to residents on Here and Now.
Syrian refugee children play in an informal tented settlement near the Syrian border on the outskirts of Mafraq, Jordan, on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015. (Muhammed Muheisen/The Associated Press)

An anonymous listener has pledged $250,000 to an initiative aimed at bringing Syrian refugee families to Canada after hearing an Etobicoke city councillor issue a challenge to residents on CBC Radio's Here and Now.

On Thursday afternoon, Coun. Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) told the program about the Etobicoke Challenge, an initiative he launched to help the Archdiocese of Toronto meet its goal to raise $3 million in 100 days. The Archdiocese plans to use those funds to bring 100 refugee families to Canada via its Project Hope.

Di Ciano challenged Etobicoke residents to help raise $250,000 by Dec. 15.

On Friday morning, Di Ciano was in his office when an email came through from an Etobicoke resident who felt compelled to donate the full amount after hearing the interview.

"It's unbelievable," Di Ciano told Here and Now on Friday afternoon. "I've got to say I'm not surprised that there are that kind and generous people in Etobicoke and across the city."

Now that the initial goal has been met, Di Ciano has "upped the ante" and doubled the goal to $500,000.

For residents who cannot give money, volunteers are going to be needed to help these families once they arrive in Canada, he said.

"Donating money is one very, very important factor," Di Ciano said on Friday. "Another important factor is being able to volunteer your time over the next year, when refugees come to Canada and need to settle here."

Volunteers will be needed for a variety of tasks, including helping refugees find housing, register for English as a second language courses, find doctors and dentists, and get oriented in the community.

The Archdiocese has long been involved in helping refugees settle in Canada, and so should not face the same red tape that other organizations have as they've tried to assist with the crisis in Syria, Di Ciano said. He expects the Archdiocese to start bringing families here in January.

"It is a big commitment," Di Ciano said during the initial interview on Thursday. "You're bringing families here. You're not going to just leave them on the doorstep at Pearson airport."

Leading by example

Di Ciano and his wife also chose to "lead by example," and donated $30,000. As of Friday, the Archdiocese had raised $1.7 million.

Like many other people around the world, Di Ciano was compelled to help when he saw the image of Alan Kurdi, the young Syrian refugee whose body washed ashore as his family tried to get to Greece.

"We're parents of a young family and it was just devastating," Di Ciano said on Thursday. "We all want the best for our children, and there are a lot of people right now who don't have that option."

Although Project Hope is an initiative of the Archdiocese of Toronto, "it's not a Catholic thing," Di Ciano said. People of all faiths can donate money or volunteer their time.

Despite the anonymous donor's initial request to keep his identity a secret, Di Ciano hopes he will let his name be made public so his generosity can be acknowledged.

"It's just something that he wants to do. I'm hoping that one day he changes his mind because people that kind and generous need to be applauded," Di Ciano said. "I mean, leading by example is one of the most important things that we can do as residents in this great city, and this gentleman did it selflessly."


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