Open Doors Spiritual Matters: Refugee shelters, food and clothing donations are not enough to provide real help

St. Aidan's in the Beach is one of the churches, along with Beach United and the community at large, that makes up the group The Beach Cares.



In August 2015, the shocking front-page picture of a three-year-old Syrian child named Alain Kurdi, whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey, galvanized action about the plight of Syrian refugees around the world. Several sponsorship groups sprang up in the Beach to respond.

These days, much of the political and media focus on refugees has shifted to the large numbers of unhoused new arrivals who overwhelm Toronto’s shelter spaces … and the heroic congregations who have opened their doors to permit people to sleep on cots in the basement of their churches. Meanwhile, the question of which level of government will pay for the needed shelters nags politicians.

However, experience shows that it takes much more than shelter, food and clothing to support refugees to the point that the can become contributing members of Canadian society. It requires long-term financial and social assistance.

Realistically, it takes several years for the newcomers to achieve independence. Sponsoring groups have come to recognize this fact: if refugees are going to integrate successfully into the community the sponsors have to commit to several years of continuing – if diminishing – levels of support. Integration into the Canadian mosaic takes more than the one year commitment under the Federal Blended Visa Office Referred (BVOR) sponsorship program, by which many sponsorship groups operate.

One sponsorship group that formed in 2015, The Beach Cares (TBC), included people from St. Aidan’s and Beach United churches and the Beach community at large. The group has sponsored two families, plus a single woman and a Syrian-Ukrainian couple…with five more people approved and awaiting transportation: a total of 18 people.

Each supported family or individual, to date, has become more independent over the years, with assistance typically needed only for specific circumstances as the years go on.

TBC’s current sponsorees – the couple – fled Ukraine shortly after Russia invaded in February, 2022. The husband had originally left Syria in 2013 when the war began there and went to Ukraine, where he met and married his wife. They arrived in Canada in May, 2023, on the federal program which simplified the procedure for Ukrainians forced to leave due to the war.

Their visas allow them to stay in the country and work as temporary residents for up to three years. However, aside from a small travel subsidy, the federal program provides no other support for the new arrivals.

TBC raised money through several events to support the couple in their transition and has a fundraising concert, featuring the Toronto All-Star Big Band, John Amato & Shannon McDougall scheduled for Oct. 21 at Beach United Church at 70 Wineva Ave. ( We’d be happy to see you there.

Current and past funding paid for apartments, dental care and telecommunications costs until the families can contribute then take over their own expenses. The community has provided many of the furnishings and kitchenware. But the work goes far beyond material assistance.

Conversations with the new arrivals guide them through unique Canadian expressions… “double-double, toonie”… and culture.

A number of the sponsorees have lost relatives back home and have had to cope with their own traumas of escape and life in refugee camps. Volunteers have also helped care for other children and provide basic infant necessities when several new babies have been born.

Research shows that refugees supported by private sponsors settle into Canada sooner and more easily. They learn English, find jobs and housing faster. Groups like TBC do much of the hands-on work but they need the financial and social support of their communities.

The Beach Cares would welcome more volunteers, especially in light of the pending arrival of five more people.

The work can be tailored to each individual volunteer’s experience, interests and availability. For more information check out or meet us at the concert on Oct. 21.

This kind of work is what makes Canada such a special country and a leader in helping refugees.

If you wish to support TBC directly, other donations of more than $25 made through St. Aidan’s are tax deductible. For more information please go to

— Michael Van Dusen is the deacon at St. Aidan’s in the Beach and a member of The Beach Cares since its founding in 2015.

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