Dozens turned away as gift cards handed out after ice storm
Chris Kitching, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, December 31, 2013 9:38AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, December 31, 2013 7:21PM EST
Hundreds of people lined up Tuesday to pick up free gift cards that are being handed out in the wake of an unprecedented ice storm but some locations ran out, leaving dozens of people frustrated and angry when they were told to return later in the week.
The cards are being offered to Toronto residents who can't afford to replace food that spoiled during prolonged power outages caused by the crippling storm, which swept through the province 10 days ago.
People can visit one of 15 Ontario Works offices in Toronto to collect a card but some locations ran out after large crowds lined up before the doors opened. Click here for a list of locations and hours.
Zita Astravas, a spokeswoman for Premier Kathleen Wynne, who announced the gift card program and invited businesses to donate, said about 1,600 families received gift cards throughout the day Tuesday.
On the first day that the cards were offered, hundreds of people gathered at the Golden Mile employment and social services office before it opened at 8:30 a.m. and the cards were all gone within an hour.
Ron Cowen said he walked 45 minutes to get to the office at Eglinton and Pharmacy avenues and he encountered “chaos” when he arrived.
“Everyone was screaming and hollering at the workers,” Cowen told CP24 reporter Jackie Crandles. “It just wasn’t organized properly.”
Cowen, who receives social assistance, said he lost about $200 worth of food after his power went out.
Barbara Morgan arrived shortly before 9:30 a.m. and was told by staff the stack of cards would be replenished later in the day or when the office reopens Thursday.
“I thought (9:30 a.m.) was pretty early. I thought I would be waiting in line,” Morgan said. “I didn’t expect that they would be out already.”
More cards arrived a few hours later but they were gone within a short period of time, leaving dozens of people empty-handed. Those people were told to return Thursday.
Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly visited the office to find out how things were going and he said he doesn’t blame people who were annoyed because they didn’t receive a gift card.
He encouraged more businesses to chip in to meet the demand.
“The first evidence we have is the demand was far, far higher than the province had anticipated,” Kelly told reporters. “All we can do it put in a request for more funds.”
More than $100,000 worth of cards have been donated by a handful of major grocery retailers and the cards are being distributed at the Ontario Works offices until Friday. The offices are closed New Year’s Day.
Families in need are eligible to receive a $100 gift card, while individuals are eligible for a $50 gift card, the province says.
The province is matching donations to a maximum of $100,000 and the Daily Bread Food Bank is overseeing the distribution of the cards. People who want to make a donation can contact the food bank.
People are asked to bring confirmation of their address and they will be asked to declare the number of people in their household.
Good Samaritans step up to help those in need
While many were frustrated about the lineups and limited availability of the gift cards, others came through to show their support for those individuals and families affected by the storm.
One man began handing out hundred dollar bills to those waiting in line for the gift cards.
“There was a time I needed help and places like this helped me,” the man, identified only as David, told CP24.
CP24 viewers were also in the giving spirit.
Sheri Roselle, one of those who lined up who was unable to obtain a gift card, was surprised when she was contacted by a CP24 viewer after appearing on TV Tuesday morning.
“Someone I don’t know, a lovely lady, she wanted to actually donate $200 to help us out,” Roselle said. “That somebody who doesn’t know us is willing to do that - that means the world.”
Joining CP24’s Stephanie Smyth for an in-studio interview later in the day, Roselle was presented with an additional gift card from an anonymous CP24 viewer.
“It’s really amazing,” Roselle said of the gift.
Power almost fully restored
Meanwhile, Toronto Hydro is inching closer to reconnecting the last remaining Torontonians who have been without power for more than a week.
As of Tuesday evening, appoximately 60 customers are still without power and about 100 whose homes or buildings sustained damage are waiting for their properties to be reenergized after needed repairs, according to Toronto Hydro.
Most of the remaining outages are scattered across Scarborough.
As the number of remaining outages dwindles, Toronto Hydro has received new or unrecorded calls, including some from people who returned from their Christmas vacation and discovered an outage, said spokeswoman Tanya Bruckmueller.
Bruckmueller said crews are hoping to get everyone back on the grid by the end of the day.
At the height of the outages, about 300,000 hydro customers were without power in Toronto. Crews have been working around the clock since the storm struck.
“They’re exhausted but they’re determined. These are tough men and women,” Bruckmueller told CP24. “Some of the nights have been very cold but our customers have been really great and supportive.”
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