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Student group helps less fortunate

Street support volunteers prepare sandwiches for the homeless

As some students spend their Fridays taking a breather from academic life, a group of students at the University of Toronto Scarborough is braving the elements to help a community in need.

The students are volunteers with Street Support -- a student-run not-for-profit organization.  For the past seven years, Street Support has worked to deliver sandwiches to as many homeless and needy people as possible.  The group began its work operating out of a Toronto high school, but was moved to U of T Scarborough in September, 2005.

“I think it’s a really good idea,” says Ishita Joag, a first-year psychology student who is spending her first day with Street Support.

Joag gave her first Street Support meal to a needy, grey-haired gentleman who was standing on the corner of St.George and Bloor streets.  “He seemed to appreciate it and it felt really good,” she says.

The volunteers distribute at least two sandwiches, a box of juice and a doughnut to each person in need.  The volunteers spend hours preparing the ham, egg, and tuna-laden bagels and filling the paper bags themselves.

 A large portion of the food is donated by sponsors.  Street Support pays for the rest of the food – including the doughnut that is included in each bag – through fundraising.  The group sells cans of pop in U of T Scarborough’s meeting place to raise funds and recruits new volunteers at the same time.

“Our long-term plan is to maintain a strong foundation at U of T Scarborough,” says Tim Woo, a fourth-year history and political science student who leads the 200-member troupe of volunteers.

"The volunteers are awesome, without them we wouldn’t be here – volunteers make Street Support possible,” he says.

The safety of both food-handling and the students is also important for Woo, who relies on his knowledge and experience from working in the food industry.

Each doughnut and sandwich is put in a re-sealable bag, tables are sanitized before any work begins, and volunteers who may be sick are assigned other jobs.

Out on the streets, the volunteers always walk in groups of four -- whether their work takes them to a busy or less populated area of the city.  While they are distributing the brown-bag meals, each group of volunteers partners with another.  The two groups walk on opposite sides of the same street and ensure they are always within sight of each other.

Before dark, the group takes any sandwiches they have left over to local missions and churches.  A few sandwiches are kept before getting on the subway back to Scarborough, in case they run into anyone else on the streets in need of a meal.

“Homelessness is an issue we all have to deal with…they don’t have adequate food, adequate housing.  We need to be there,” says Woo. 

For information about volunteering with Street Support, please contact Tim Woo

© University of Toronto Scarborough