News / Toronto

Why Toronto's successful Syrian refugee kitchen could soon close

The Depanneur has given new arrivals a focal point but is facing financial challenges that could force it to shut within three months.

Recent Syrian migrants Holia Mustafa, Nana Sahloul and Majeda el Mafaalani prepare a typical Syrian meal at The Depanneur in July. The Newcomer Kitchen Project is facing financial constraints and may be forced to close.

Torstar News Service file

Recent Syrian migrants Holia Mustafa, Nana Sahloul and Majeda el Mafaalani prepare a typical Syrian meal at The Depanneur in July. The Newcomer Kitchen Project is facing financial constraints and may be forced to close.

Faced with a budget and time crunch, one of Toronto’s successful Syrian refugee integration projects could soon close shop.

The Depanneur, a newcomer kitchen initiative that has given dozens of local Syrian families a chance to connect with the city – and each other – through cooking, is facing financial challenges.

Founder Len Senater started the project earlier this year as an attempt to provide Syrian women – many of whom were spending their time sitting in crowded hotels – with an opportunity to put their culinary skills to work.

The initiative quickly turned into a small business of its own, with Syrian food items being sold and the women making an income. Senater was thinking of exporting the model to other neighbourhoods across the country.

But as the operation expanded to accommodate more Syrian newcomers, Senater found himself facing extra costs and lacking the technical support to keep the things going.

“The only form of financial support that I’ve received in an official capacity has been the TTC tokens that I can give to women for their transportation,” he said, noting the project has survived on his own pocket plus over $25,000 he raised earlier through crowdfunding.

The project has only one full-time staffer and runs its operations with the help of volunteers. Senater has applied for a non-profit status, which he needs to be eligible to apply for government grants and funding from other corporate donors.

“We now have a runway of about two to three more months until all our money runs out,” he said.

The alternative would be to take the money “out of these ladies’ pockets” and use it to finance the project’s activities, something Senater said isn’t going to happen.

“They don’t have a luxury of being able to volunteer,” he said, adding it’d be a huge disappointment if the project closed down.

“The question was, ‘these people are here, which is great, but now what?’ And this project was the beginning of finding the answer.”

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