Posted on June 15 2020
June marks Pride Month so HumbleBerry’s Kyla Morgan sat down, virtually, with The 519’s strategic communications and executive planning director, Soofia Mahmood, to learn more about how the organization has pivoted during COVID-19 and how they’re celebrating Pride Month.
KM: Thanks so much for chatting with me Soofia! For those who aren’t familiar with The 519, please tell us what it’s all about.
SM: The 519 is a Toronto-based nonprofit community centre serving marginalized LGBTQ2S communities, which means a lot of folks rely on us – for services as well as space. Whether it is accessing meals through our drop-in programs, use of washrooms, critical services such as counselling or settlement support, and most importantly for the social connection in an affirming space.
KM: That’s so important. How have your services changed since the COVID-19 regulations were put in place?
SM: As soon as we received direction from Toronto Public Health to close our doors to the community we adjusted our services immediately. We knew that food insecurity and social isolation would be the most urgent issues as the city shut down. So, we immediately launched a 7-day meal takeaway program and expanded our Friendly Phone program to reach out to vulnerable community members during the week, especially seniors, to reduce the impacts of social isolation and provide critical referrals and supports.
KM: You’ve also launched some virtual initiatives, please tell us about them.
SM: We launched virtual supports for crisis settlement services where we are not only providing continued support to existing clients but also doing new intakes and providing support through our Newcomer and Refugee settlement program. We also launched our Virtual Crisis Counselling program, Virtual Tax Clinics to support Downtown East with their taxes. We’re also offering phone calls for legal matters and are expanding our legal support initiatives.
KM: What programs are most in need of additional funding at this time?
SM: Our Newcomer and Refugee settlement program for LGBTQ2S communities has been our biggest program, which is also most under-funded, with increasing pressures. This is an intensely stressful time for vulnerable LGBTQ refugees and newcomers. Our trauma-informed counselling program for LGBTQ2S communities, another underfunded program, was also under immense pressure pre-COVID-19 due to high demand and increasing need.
KM: Has The 519 been able to access any financial assistance to help get through the pandemic?
SM: A lot of our existing funding has been redirected to support our COVID-19 essential services. This includes funding from foundations, government bodies, corporate partners, etc. But we have lost significant revenue streams like Green Space Festival, our fundraising festival during Pride and our social enterprise revenues. It has put immense pressure on us. We are continuing to appeal for donations as well as applying for various funding so we can continue to serve our communities and neighbourhood.
KM: The 519 just ran a virtual family pride event. Are you planning any other events?
SM: We are trying to pull together other virtual fundraisers. We are the charity of choice for Pride Toronto’s virtual events this year which is important for us as we lost our biggest fundraising event of the year, Green Space Festival. We are glad that virtual events and celebrations are taking place. It is important. That being said, we recognize that it is not the same. Pride is a time for communities to gather, to be visible. And it is also important for our businesses and to the city. Many vulnerable and marginalized communities may not have access to media or the internet, and that during this quarantine, many folks may be in non-affirming households and not have the chance to log in to such events without fear of backlash or outing themselves. Pride started as a liberation movement. In many ways, especially in the context of this pandemic and the current realities of racialized communities and the pervasive anti-Black racism, it is still a liberation movement and a fight for equity.
KM: How can individuals and companies best support the 519?
SM: Our COVID-19 response work largely remains unfunded, while the needs of our communities during this time continue to increase.To best support our work:
- donate online at www.The519.org/donate.
- donate by phone (only available during Pride month – June): text THE519 to 80100 to donate by phone.
- raise funds for us: write to Giving@The519.org.
- donate in-kind food, ingredients and other items in demand: write to Giving@The519.org.
- Elevate important issues that are impacting LGBTQ2S communities
- Support LGBTQ2S businesses