Syrian refugees shop for free winter gear at North York clothing drive

Young Syrian children wriggled into winter coats for the first time Sunday at a clothing drive in a North York hotel where government-sponsored refugees are staying until they find permanent housing.

400 refugees staying at hotel until permanent housing can be found

This young Syrian was fitted for her first proper winter coat at The Clothing Drive's pop-up shop in a North York Hotel. (CBC)

Young Syrian children wriggled into winter coats for the first time Sunday at a clothing drive in a North York hotel where nearly 400 government-sponsored refugees are staying until they find permanent housing. 

The kids and their families were shopping — for free winter coats and other necessities— at The Clothing Drive's pop-up shop at the Toronto Plaza Hotel on Wilson Avenue.

The temporary store is an offshoot of the brick-and-mortar operation in Scarborough that's been set up to give refugees the chance to get outfitted for the harsh Canadian winter, a volunteer with the organization said. 

"It's not just about clothes and it's not just about toys, it's about integration," Sheri Gammon Dewling says. "It's about saying to these new Canadians that we're welcoming them."

The Clothing Drive has already helped outfit a number of young Syrians who began school this week. Gammon Dewling says the organization's efforts have been met with a positive embrace from the refugees who fled a brutal civil war that is now entering its fifth year.

"There are children who have been walking up to our volunteer desk just to say hello and to say, 'I love Canada'," she says.

"They want to tell us that they appreciate what we're doing here."

Language classes offered

In addition to a comfy, warm coat, the children also each got a bag of toys to take to their room to help them stay occupied. According to the executive director of COSTI Immigration Services, Mario Calla, it's expected to take about another four weeks until the government helps them and their families settle into more permanent homes throughout the city.

COSTI provides educational, social and employment services to immigrants from around the world who are hoping to settle in the GTA.

They are trying to make the best of the time the refugees will spend in the hotel. The agency has already begun children's programs, and beginning this week, it will start running ESL programs for adults. 

The process of moving families to permanent housing has been delayed due to the large influx of arrivals in recent weeks. Calla says the delays shouldn't stop Canada from reaching its goal of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees in the coming months.

"That's no reason to slow down the arrivals only because, as people have been saying to me — they're saying this is certainly better than [they] had back in Jordan or Lebanon," he told CBC News.

With files from Makda Ghebreslassie


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