Metro Morning

Woman began donating clothes, now runs store for Syrian newcomers

A few weeks ago, Laura-Jean Bernhardson had a job: to organize clothing donations for a refugee family coming to Toronto. Today, she has a storefront, one that offers refugees a chance to shop for and select their clothes for free.

What started as a clothing drive for one family turned into a full-scale operation for hundreds of refugees

The Clothing Drive is a free store where Syrian newcomers can choose their own clothing. (The Clothing Drive/YouTube)

Within a day of asking for clothing donations for the refugee she was sponsoring, Laura-Jean Bernhardson began receiving the beginning of what would become "mountains" of clothes.

Bernhardson said she quickly realized she was in over her head and reached out for help cataloguing the more than 30,000 pieces of clothing that arrived.

And now those clothes are inside a special store, which Bernhardson calls The Clothing Drive. It gives families the chance to come in, try on clothes and get a week's worth of free outfits and winter gear.

'Uniform for integrating'

"The clothing is their uniform for integrating into our society," The Clothing Drive's founder said. "These kids are going to go to school in these clothes, people are going to go to the grocery store so you need to be able to have an outfit that you feel confident in and comfortable."

With the help of a team of volunteers, The Clothing Drive has snowballed from a small task to a major undertaking, operating out of a strip mall on Victoria Park Avenue.

Families can book appointments online through their sponsors so that they can "go shopping" at the Clothing Drive, Bernhardson said.

This weekend, it's going on the road, opening a pop-up shop for hundreds of Syrian refugees staying at a North York hotel.

Laura-Jean Bernhardson among some 'shoppers' at her Clothing Drive location. (Laura-Jean Bernhardson/The Clothing Drive)

Clothing, toy drive

There are nearly 400 Syrian refugees being temporarily housed at the hotel. Huge amounts of stock from the Victoria Park Avenue store will be shipped over on the weekend along with toys from a local toy drive.

And now that Bernhardson's own sponsor family is here in Canada, she's had the chance to show them what came out of her desire to find them new clothes.

"Our translator told them and they were just flabbergasted, they couldn't believe," she said. "She was like, 'This all started for you, this whole store.' And they were looking around, just completely blown away."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?