Metrolinx shunted aside this couple's food table for the needy. Now the transit agency wants to help
Bill and Shirley Graham have provided the less fortunate with food and water since mid-March
A Mississauga couple got evicted several weeks ago — but not from their home.
Ever since the pandemic started, Bill and Shirley Graham had been feeding those in need using a collapsible table in a vacant parking lot at Hurontario and Dundas streets, near Mississauga's city centre.
"When the COVID hit, we saw people out there on the street," said Bill Graham. "They couldn't go into a restaurant, washroom, so we said, 'Okay, all we can do is put the food outside.' So we started."
But a few weeks ago, the couple found the table shunted to the side and the lot fenced off. It turns out the regional transit agency Metrolinx had taken possession of the lot and wasn't aware what the table was there for.
However, with the help of CBC Toronto reporter Greg Ross, the two sides have come together to find a solution.
Couple has always helped less fortunate
The Grahams have always tried to dedicate time to helping those less fortunate, Bill Graham said. Before the pandemic, they volunteered at a soup kitchen every Tuesday in Brampton, Ont.
When the pandemic hit, they wanted to help a local community and a Mississauga city councillor recommended they do something for the Hurontario and Dundas area.
The couple said they would fill a collapsible table every day with food and about 40 bottles of water three times a day for those who are in need. They said their patrons consisted of people experiencing homelessness, and those who were just trying to make ends meet.
"It was a terribly hot summer," said Bill Graham. "Some of [the people] say the water saved their lives."
Cereal, cookies and chocolate were popular items, Shirley Graham said. She would also have sandwiches ready-made for people to eat.
The table was intended to give be alternative to food banks, given the closest one to that area is more than six kilometres away and many of people don't have cars or even bus tickets to get there.
The Grahams also left the table unattended and used an honour system..He and his wife would come around 7 a.m. for about an hour, again at noon, and then stay for a couple of hours in the evening.
WATCH | Greg Ross speaks to the Grahams, Metrolinx about finding a solution
The couple also relied on their savings and whatever they had in their house to keep the table replenished, they said. Then, friends and strangers started to donate.
"People [would] bring stuff to the table and they're so happy to do it," Bill Graham added.
Metrolinx wants to work with Grahams
It turns out the parking lot was recently purchased by Metrolinx to use the space for storage during the construction of the Hurontario LRT.
"We didn't have any idea that there was this wonderful gesture going on on this property," said Anne-Marie Aikins, spokesperson for Metrolinx, adding that the agency fenced it off for security reasons since there's no lighting around the lot.
However, Aikins told CBC Toronto on Friday, now that the regional transit agency knows what the Grahams are trying to do, it wants to do what it can to help.
"We're in a very unusual situation with COVID and we've been living through it for so long," said Aikins. "These lovely, lovely gestures are something we want to support."
Greg Ross connected Aikins with the Grahams via FaceTime during their interview on Friday.
Aikins told Bill Graham she's already contacted Metrolinx's community relations office in the area and they want to connect with the couple to find a solution.
"We're more than willing to work with them," said Aikins.
The Grahams were pleased to hear the update.
If all goes well, the food table could be up and running again very soon.
"It's certainly a welcome surprise," said Bill Graham on FaceTime.
"It's very much appreciated."
With files from Greg Ross