November 9, 2009
Not Specifically About Books
Last weekend, early in the morning on Saturday, October 31st, the Children’s Storefront burnt down.
The Storefront was a community drop-in centre for children – mostly pre-schoolers – and their caregivers; a comfortable, welcoming and unparalleled space to play, read and create surrounded by friendly, like people. To put it like that makes it sound like an Ontario Early Year’s Centre, some government-funded space in a basement or a school gym for people who can’t afford daycare or a more elaborate for-profit indoor playground. What it was is impossible to describe. It was warm, tight-knit but welcoming to newcomers, flexible, accommodating, beautiful, comfortable, safe and peaceful. The kids were welcome to play with a huge range of high-quality, un-branded, well-selected toys in mini-environments that were built by volunteers and staff while parents and caregivers found comfy places to sit and hang out with free coffee, tea or leftovers from the previous day’s community dinner or brunch. The staff were omnipresent, ready to help you with your child or offer advice or just company.
For us, the Children’s Storefront was a complete, unqualified life-saver. My husband and I are fairly reclusive people, anxious in social situations and more than a little awkward. Yet we have been gifted with a daughter who is friendly, generous and precociously social. Once we worked up the nerve to walk into the Storefront and introduce ourselves we never looked back – Maggie immediately bonded with the staff and the other parents, and tried at every opportunity to interact with and play with the other children (with great success, considering she is a mere 16 months old). The quiet and comfortable environment put me at ease; this was somewhere that I could set a good example for my daughter and let her learn the social skills that maybe I never quite picked up. It was a community I felt our family was welcomed into, something so essential to people like us who otherwise tend towards isolation.
Saturday, October 31st it burned. Over the course of the following week demolition crews moved in and tore it down. As of this Saturday morning nothing remains but an empty lot and a high fence. My husband and I have been struggling with a sense of loss that neither of us expected; not so much for the space as for the community we’d felt we’d lost. Our week was spent feeling trapped within the walls of our small apartment with a child who was clearly growing bored and impatient with us. We took tentative, shy trips to the park and another community drop-in to break up the tedium. But the spaces, complete as they may have been with toys, climbers and crayons were no substitute for the community. Even Maggie could tell this. She had no interest in swinging alone in a swing or sliding alone down the slide.
We are not the only ones to whom the Storefront meant a great deal – a Facebook group called The Children’s Storefront Needs a New Home has been set up and boasts already over 440 members. As you can see, the support of those community members is being mobilized already to get the Storefront up and running again, a huge task that will take a great deal of volunteer time and, most importantly, money. We are optimistic that the result will be a positive one, and someday we will take Maggie to the new Storefront which, for her, will be the only Storefront she will be able to remember. Twenty years from now that new, yet-unrealized space will be the institution in her fond memories.
If you should feel so inclined, please do visit the Children’s Storefront website and see if you can help us find a new home. You could attend a fundraising event, donate to the toy & book drive or just send money. Or simply join the Facebook group and let your presence lend strength to our efforts. It might not be a glamorous or life-saving charity but it is one which is very dear to our hearts. Strong urban communities are sometimes elusive; and I want desperately to keep this one running for generations to come.