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Just a phone call away: How East Scarborough Storefront is building community during COVID-19

As Canadians adjust to an unprecedented new reality in the wake of states of emergency, physical distancing, and isolation from much of what is familiar, we have also witnessed incredible responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Frontline workers and essential services are working around the clock to save lives in urban and rural centres from coast to coast to coast. The very nature of frontline services is evolving with dizzying speed before our eyes. The health care field has entered a state of overdrive, and Canadians are supporting a flattening of the curve by staying at home. But what does this mean for community supports? In the midst of COVID-19 community-led initiatives are identifying immediate needs and best practices to support their local demographics.

From transferring in-person programming to online spaces to advocating for vulnerable populations, this blog post is the first in an emerging series that we’re writing at Tides Canada to highlight how our projects and programs are reacting and adapting to rapidly changing circumstances, limited resources and capacities, and finding ways to continue their essential development work in communities across the country.

The East Scarborough Storefront, a Tides Canada Shared Platform project based in the East Scarborough district of Toronto, is leveraging the power of digital tools to continue important service delivery and offer tangible community connection in the wake of stay at home orders.

East Scarborough Storefront has opened a telephone hotline to support the community.


This community hub has long been an innovator and integrator, and its response to the COVID-19 outbreak is a poignant example of these qualities. Following an emergency closure, The Storefront has migrated many of its operations online, and is using innovative alternative means to continue programming. Staff are running a telephone hotline to answer questions residents may have about updated information on the virus and government recommendations for health monitoring and physical distancing. They also connect people to relevant experts for information about local concerns like what economic assistance or supports will be made available to those who have lost their jobs, cannot pay rent or utilities, or newcomers who are unsure of how to continue their settlement process. The Storefront isn’t just taking calls: they’re making them too: phoning community residents to check in and ensure that people living in East Scarborough feel connected.

The Storefront is also hosting a series of community surveys on their website and social media platforms to learn from the community exactly what community members themselves are identifying as core needs as they navigate this time. Staff are asking questions that range from “how are you finding ways to be creative and active?” to “how is this situation impacting your sense of community?” to “what are the most important services do you need help accessing at this time?”. The Storefront is listening directly to the East Scarborough community to determine how best to support locals and continue to nurture connection while the region is on lockdown.

The hub helps residents, social service organizations, and local stakeholders engage in dialogue, run programs, and share learning to increase resilience in East Scarborough. The Storefront operates a service hub of 35 organizations to bring legal advice, youth groups, employment resources, and settlement services into the heart of the neighbourhood, improving access and availability, and supporting increased capacity, and resilience among residents. In a community that is one of the most diverse in the country, where nearly 30% of residents live below the poverty line, and where one of Ontario’s highest concentrations of social housing is located, The Storefront is a critical local resource that provides essential support to residents in great need.

Yet the organization is more than a service delivery hub: it is a backbone of the East Scarborough Community. The Storefront emerged from a recognition that people in marginalized communities are in real danger of being disconnected and disenfranchised from each other and from the systems designed to support them. This concern is magnified as a result of the global pandemic.

Staff rose to the crisis with a sense of “oneness, agency, and empowerment,” as a result of the relationship building and nurturing that lies at the heart of The Storefront. Staff say that the Storefront’s emphasis on grounding their work in trust and partnership has been the core reason why pivoting their community development work in the wake of COVID-19 has been a relatively smooth process so far.

While the world is facing a common challenge that is uniting the global population in new ways, each community faces its own unique needs. The East Scarborough Storefront is finding innovative ways to reach across physical barriers and deliver services and supports online. Initiatives like this one are integral to vulnerable communities’ abilities to grow and thrive. They are all the more important in times like these.

Projects like The East Scarborough Storefront are rooted in and defined by their communities. They have their finger on the pulse of what their populations and ecosystems need, and are therefore best-placed to seek and implement solutions to challenges that arise as the Coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold. If you’d like to find out more about The Storefront, please visit their website.


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