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How to Add New Meaning to Life in Liberty Village!

Posted by Christopher Balkaran on 16 April 2018
How to Add New Meaning to Life in Liberty Village!
Toronto is a busy place. Nowhere is that more evident that liberty village. From my balcony, I can count seven different cranes erecting new buildings that will block add to the view of the city from my living room. And it's an exciting time to watch it all happen - it means people want to live in the city, and contribute to its economic prosperity.

Despite all the busyness we occupy our lives with, the street across from liberty village includes a shelter for the homeless, Strachan House, with its pink brick overlay standing as a stark reminder of how very real downtown living is.

Approximately 5,000 Torontonians tonight will go without safe and stable housing across the city. Homes First, a not-for-profit / charitable organization provides a stable living environment to Toronto's homeless and operates three properties across Toronto. Strachan House is one of the properties, and is situated at the south-east corner of Strachan and Wellington, and is a converted warehouse, which includes seventy-six units for single adult men and women. Each unit has its own window and in 1999, Strachan House won the Governor General's Medal of Excellence for design.


As a liberty village resident who walks/cycles/transits by Strachan House every day, I wanted to know how to give back in a meaningful way. I have been active in my community by being on my condo board, as well as the Residents Association and have helped out on social events. While these roles provided me with experiences that are applicable in my professional life, I was not feeling a strong sense of meaningfulness and purpose: I did not feel connected to the community I love. I had heard about Liberty Village CARES, and wondered why I did not partner with them more, or help out on their many initiatives. One day I decided to call them to inquire about volunteering for Easter Dinner at Strachan House.

The experience was unbelievable: the food arrived on time and many volunteers helped prep the food for serving. We established a mini-conveyor belt of who did what, and were able to serve everyone expediently. The food included: roasted chicken, ham, mixed vegetables, gravy, bread, dessert and a drink. The kitchen area inside Strachan House is very clean, with stainless steel counter tops and utensils that are all thoroughly cleaned before and after use. Some meal preparation is required: chicken needs to be cut, vegetables need to be cooked or gravy needs to be heated. The preparation is very minimal and anyone with no kitchen experience can help.

Afterwards, the new volunteers were given a tour of Strachan House, which showcased multiple kitchens and communal areas for residents to come together. It felt like its own community inside its walls: residents laughed with each other, watched television together and ate together. This was incredible that Liberty Village CARES organized the tour I am certain many of us had wondered how the building looked on the inside after passing by so many times. The feeling was indescribable to give back.

And the research proves it. According to research from Psychology Today, those who volunteer experience a 'helper's high': a euphoric sensation of increased energy and strength, less depression and increased feelings of self-worth . Volunteering also helps you make new friends, develop skills useful for other aspects of your life and most importantly, provide a positive influence in someone else.

I wanted to sit down and speak with the founder of Liberty Village CARES' Jagger Long to discuss more about this initiative and volunteering in general.

What made you want to begin this initiative at Strachan House?

I had personally worked in homeless shelters before and I have huge heart for helping the homeless.  I also know how important giving back to the community is for many of us. When I started Liberty Village CARES, I wanted to provide people with opportunities to volunteer in the community. 

At first, I asked Strachan House if Liberty Village CARES could do a Thanksgiving dinner in October, 2016. The experience was incredible and thought of doing more for them.. We organized a Christmas holiday social and raised over $3000 which we used to buy holiday gifts for each of the 90 residents. Next we organized a Christmas dinner and gave them their holiday gift bags which included a new comforter, body wash, toothbrush, chocolate, gift cards and other goodies!.  I have made many cool connections with local businesses that made me think a regular soup kitchen at Strachan House could be a reality.  In January, 2017 we began offering dinners once every two weeks, but that soon grew to once every week in March of the same year. One of the beauty this program offers is that we have people from all over Toronto nwo come and help. I even have customers from my one business travel from outside Toronto to help. As a community, we have really stepped up to make sure we give our love and support to our neighbours in need. The staff and management team have told us on many occassions what we do for Strachan House is not not being done any other neighbourhood. We have created really special program and I am super proud of everyone involved!


How has the response been from local businesses?

It has been incredible. we are so lucky to have honestly the most giving partners!  Everyone one of our local business partners are thrilled to be part of Liberty Village CARES and our Sunday Dinner program.  The relationships with store owners and GM's have been one of my most inspiring experiences living in Liberty Village. The amount of respect and trust they offer represents what a community is all about.  I am forever grateful to have met such kind people who wanted to help and bring my vision to life! There has not been a business that has said no - they all want to give back. Each week, we have different local businesses that help us prepare meals and their generousity is pretty special to experience. 

What would you like to see going forward with LV CARES and Strachan House?

I just want to see neighbours come out and make a difference and treat our homeless neighbours with respect. It's only 2 hours of your time and really an easy way to give back.  I want people to get to know the residents as well: they are as much a part of the community as we are. Liberty Village CARES has grown organically because we are driven by the residents with no agenda other than to connect good, caring people. The spirit of the what we do and who participates in our events will continue to impact and make a difference in our community.  I guess what I would like to see most is for more neighbours become aware of what we do and the know about the many cool social events and fundraisers we host year round.  

The more volunteers that come out, the more engaged they can become in other initiatives, bring their own ideas and ultimately give back to the community. LVCARES has an open arms approach.  It's never been about me or any one person: it will always be about the residents!

If you'd like to get involved, please click and join our Facebook Group or contact Dawn Rzepka - an wonderful person who has volunteered to step up as teh LVCARES Lead for organziing Sunday Dinners & volunteers.  Remember, you can volunteer any Sunday at Strachan House Sunday from 4-6PM. I cannot tell you how impactful this experience has been on me: it has provided me the spark to continue giving back to our community. Perhaps it will for you as well!   - Christopher Balkaran

Author: Christopher Balkaran
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