For months Community Fridges Toronto has coordinated outdoor fridges to act as hubs for food sharing to help during the pandemic. But organizers are looking for a new home for its Parkdale fridge after the city ordered its removal, leaving community members fuming about this, and other city interventions.
Co-owners of Black Diamond Vintage, Sierra Leedham and Dara Moshonas, had been hosting Parkdale’s community fridge since about July.
They’ve seen hundreds of residents stop by to fill and grab food donations from the fridge. It fills and empties at least three times a day, said Jalil Bokhari, who has been co-organizing multiple fridges around the city through Community Fridges Toronto.
But last week, Leedham says a city bylaw enforcement called their landlord and advised that they had to remove the fridge within 24 hours or he would face a fine.
The city said it requested the removal due to “public safety and accessibility concerns” citing the “abandoned appliance bylaw and sanitation issues related to stopping the spread of COVID-19.”
The abandoned appliance bylaw is meant to protect young children who could become trapped inside. The community fridges however are in frequent use, Bokhari says, and the magnetic door can be opened from the inside.
Leedham says sanitation wasn’t mentioned in the conversations they had with bylaw officers, but Bokhari also notes that the fridges are sanitized frequently. “To us, it’s not really any worse than going to a grocery store,” he said.
Bokhari said they sought advice from a lawyer, reached out to Councillor Gord Perks, who represents Parkdale-High Park, and tried to convince bylaw enforcement to reconsider.
The landlord had been supportive of the initiative, but with the city unwilling to budge on the fine, they pulled the fridge in Nov. 17 and started looking for a new home. Bokhari said they’re hoping to find a new private host as soon as possible for the people who have been relying on the fridge.
“The issue with it was that there was no solution presented for how the fridge could function within the guidelines the city could provide,” Bokhari said. “The city hasn’t really provided any form of replacement of that kind, or any options for people that are relying on it.”
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Leedham added, “Penalizing people for trying to help … it feels pretty terrible.”
The city’s intervention has sparked criticism among community members about this, and other warnings it has provided to mutual aid initiatives.
Scarborough carpenter Khaleel Seivwright has been constructing shelters to help unhoused people ahead of winter, and received a warning letter from the city on Nov. 19, CBC reports.
This all comes as the debacle unfolding at Adamson Barbecue, a restaurant that for two days now has been open for indoor dining, in defiance of lockdown restrictions, has raised enforcement questions.
Seeing officials initially waffle over whether to fine and close Adamson Barbecue, “felt like a slap in the face to what we were trying to do,” Leedham said
Toronto police have now announced that nine charges for offences over two days have been laid against the company and owner Adam Skelly.
“There’s so many layers to this,” Bokhari said, noting the housing crisis, the high cost of rent in the city. Bokhari lost his job in the service industry during the pandemic and most of his CERB goes to paying his rent.
“Instead of trying to offer solutions, they’re just punishing people who are trying to step in and fill that hole that the city’s left,” Leedham said. “To just say you can’t do this and offer nothing in its place … it’s very disappointing.”
Angelyn Francis is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering equity and inequality. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach her via email: [email protected]
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