COVID Stories: From The Neighbourhood Organization to the Neighbourhood

By: Alanna Quinn, Engagement Coordinator

Darcy MacCallum, Director of Family & Wellness at The Neighbourhood Organization (TNO), sat down with MCIS to discuss the support that TNO provides to Thorncliffe Park, Flemingdon Park, St. James Town, and Crescent Town. Thorncliffe Park and area has been supported by TNO since 1985, and Darcy shared TNO’s successes and some of the hardships endured in the neighbourhood. Last month, MCIS had the privilege of translating TNO’s Emergency Food Response flyer into 10 languages. The purpose of the flyer is to address food insecurity in the community, and CBC News covered their food initiative. TNO is also working on so many other initiatives prioritizing innovation and ensuring the continued engagement of their community members.

Who is TNO?

TNO consists of several sites between Millwood Rd and Gateway Blvd. Originally founded as Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, TNO aims to respond to the needs of the neighbourhood community. Initially, the organization’s work centered solely on immigration and settlement services. This is because in the 80s, Thorncliffe was a gateway community in Canada; newcomers were making Thorncliffe Park their first stop in the country. There have been some changes in the community since then and the organization has evolved with the community.

Several years ago, after TNO acquired Flemingdon Neighbourhood Services, TNO changed its name from Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office to The Neighbourhood Organization. The decision to change the name from Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office to The Neighbourhood Organization was done in order to expand the organization’s lens to address the needs of other communities in addition to Thorncliffe. And many of the services offered were the same at both the Thorncliffe and Flemingdon neighbourhood organizations, like the domestic violence services, settlement services, and community engagement offered. However, Flemingdon had a housing help program, which, to this day, has remained centred in the Flemingdon Office, where both neighbourhoods are now able to access this support. The Housing Help Program supports residents with paying rent and acquiring the types of housing that the community needs.

TNO has also expanded into the St. James Town area and increased their presence in Crescent Town as well. In order to tailor the services required in St. James town better, TNO partnered with 20 organizations downtown to provide services the area. They also have similar partnerships in the Crescent Town area to support that community’s needs.

TNO offers an array of services including employment programs, child development programs, youth programs, domestic violence services, language acquisition programs, and many others. Over the years, its services have evolved to meet the changing needs of the community through continuous community engagement.

Language Barriers in a Language Diverse Community

Being a settlement-focused organization, TNO’s hiring practices have attempted to mirror the languages present in the community. TNO has employees who are fluent in 40 different languages, which allows for many of the community’s language needs to be met by direct staff engagement, especially when settlement services are requested. The staff is largely capable of interacting with people in their language of choice. If an individual requires domestic violence services and does not wish to have further community involvement, there is a hotline TNO uses to support domestic violence cases with a focus on language assistance.

Growing Stronger Through the Pandemic

Over the last few months, TNO has closed their spaces to regular work and have taken a hybrid version of closure. They have kept their main office open, not for in-person meetings, but to staff it so people can reach a live person on the phone when they call. This process helps disseminate community concerns to TNO’s 120 staff members who are currently working remotely. The pandemic has come with its fair share of challenges. Working remotely has been very difficult for TNO’s domestic violence team because most of the resources and tools used to support women in dangerous situations have been severely limited.

On a positive note, all of TNO’s services have been maintained and transitioned to virtual platforms. The early years program is conducting reading circles online and TNO’s youth team is doing many interactive sessions with youth, which has helped TNO prepare for the camp season. TNO has developed a unique  approach to summer camp by partnering with Go Green Youth Centre and summerlunch+. Go Green Youth Centre created the “Camp in a Box” initiative, where a box of supplies will be sent out to campers to use in the virtual sessions over the summer.

In response to COVID-19, TNO partnered with Michael Garron Hospital to help make 100,000 handmade masks. By working with local sewers in the community, TNO committed to making 1,000 per week. It was a great success and the Michael Garron Foundation had thousands of masks brought to them through this campaign. Due to this initiative, the community has continued to make masks and has started to distribute them within the community. TNO has been working with grassroots community resident groups to get masks into every household in Thorncliffe and Flemingdon.

Another initiative TNO established is their emergency food response. TNO setup a warehouse to produce 150 to 200 non-perishable food hampers per week and are delivering them to resident’s homes. Rather than risking community members’ health by having them come to the warehouse, they have dozens of community volunteers who deliver the hampers to individuals’ doors. They drive to various buildings and addresses across Thorncliffe and Flemingdon for deliveries. This initiative allows people who need to isolate or are having trouble getting access to food to meet their food concerns. Through this program, TNO is reaching over 700 households right now. Leaside Toy Drive helped source food right from the producers and Iqbal Foods helped source the food at a very low cost. TNO wants to continue to address the food insecurity in the community and combine that aid with employment opportunities. They acknowledge that food insecurity is a complex issue, and to address the problem properly, they must recognize that food insecurity exists largely due to unemployment. TNO’s Trades Connect Program offers support to help members of the community find employment opportunities, and has evolved over time to respond to the changing needs of the community. Initially, the program was geared to getting people into construction-related trades, but now it has expanded to finding employment opportunities in IT, cyber security, and with TNO’s food initiative. TNO’s grocery initiative was featured on CBC News and they came live to film them making food hampers. Please see article here: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/east-end-toronto-groups-launch-food-bank-1.5570514

As of June 4, 2020, TNO opened as a COVID-19 testing centre for Thorncliffe Park. Michael Garron Hospital has focused on Thorncliffe and Crescent Town as two communities where they want to do extensive testing of residents for COVID-19, and TNO has the capacity to test 200 people a day. It will be open seven days a week for testing.

Changes and Challenges in the Neighbourhoods

In the last 10 years, immigration patterns have changed. Toronto is seeing increased numbers of immigrants landing in the 905 and not just in the “six.” While there is still a large number of immigrants moving to Thorncliffe Park, people are staying for longer durations of time in these neighbourhoods than ever before. Individuals are unable to move out of Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park area due to the cost of housing, and there is a high unemployment rate, according to census data in Thorncliffe Park area, which adds to the socioeconomic pressures residents are facing.

TNO has seen households register for food services for apartments that have 11 people in them, which is proof that house prices have become unrealistically high for newcomers and individuals in these areas. TNO has seen housing situations where a couple of family units are sharing space together, or there are multiple generations sharing space. Some of the TNO staff who grew up in Thorncliffe Park shared their rooms with an aunt, uncle, or grandparent. In addition, over the last five years, there has been an increase in poverty and an increase in the cost of living of the area. Unfortunately, too many residents are unemployed, under employed, or doing cash employment, which creates significant challenges for the community. The 2016 census data showed that 27% of the population was under the age of 14. As a result, TNO has seen a significant spike in violent crime in the neighbourhood. The issues affecting communities in these areas are poverty, housing congestion, unemployment, cultural and language barriers.

TNO Solutions

Programs have been curated and are specific to the neighbourhood’s needs, such as settlement and immigration programs, language acquisition programs, early years programs, youth tutoring, domestic violence services, housing services, senior services. All of these services have contributed greatly to the betterment of the communities.

TNO also undertook a joint venture with Flemingdon Health Centre and launched “Health Access Thorncliffe Park”, which was a response to concerns around the health equity experienced in Thorncliffe Park. Many people, for various reasons, were facing obstacles regarding accessing healthcare. To respond to this, TNO wanted to bring healthcare right into the neighbourhood. Now, Flemingdon Health Centre is the clinical side of the partnership and TNO is the community determinant side, which allows for a holistic approach to addressing the health needs of people in the community.

Because of its partnership with Flemingdon Health Centre, The Don Valley Legal Services, The Midwives Clinic of East York, TNO will be moving within the next year. The four organizations will be centralized in this move; the Thorncliffe Park office is moving entirely and sub-sects of the other organizations will move to the second floor of the old Target at the East York Town Centre. This move allows for the amalgamation of various services and aims to create a more integrated hub for community and healthcare services. People will be able to come in for health concerns, legal concerns, employment concerns, and TNO will be able to connect individuals to services more effectively. The goal is to fully integrate the services so that TNO can be more client-centred. Due to the pandemic, no construction will take place for a while, but this is an exciting time on the horizon for TNO.

Access TNO Services

To access services, TNO encourages people to call their main office at 416-467-0126 or to visit their website at https://tno-toronto.org/. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, walk-ins are not allowed at this time.

Get Involved with TNO

All volunteer opportunities can be found at TNO’s website: https://tno-toronto.org/career-volunteer-opportunities.

With the TNO Food Collaborative, people can volunteer to help deliver food, and food donations are required. The flyer below provides guidelines for donating food.


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