Health + Wellness,  Lifestyle

Let’s Get Personal: Mutual Aid on the Danforth

   “I’m iffy about billionaire romantic heroes,” says Jackie Olynyk, local romance author. She wants to write characters that she likes, and not someone “that’s a big, capitalist mogul.” Olynyk describes her writing as a mix between “cozy comfort and fierce rebellion,” which represents her evident desire to embrace anti-capitalism not only in her creative writing, but also in her community on the Danforth. Olynyk brings this energy into her volunteer work for local mutual aid organization The Personal Care Bank (TPCB). “I love our community, I love Toronto,” she says. “It’s easy to shut everything else [out] and focus on yourself, [… but] I really want to see us all come together. It makes me happier.”

The picture is taken by Helene Crowley

Mutual aid means providing support for anybody, whenever they might need it, and isn’t about fundraising or monetary donations (like charities). As Olynyk describes, there’s no “divide between the [volunteers] and people accessing the banks; it’s not an ‘us versus them mentality.’” She explains that TPCB allows for all of us to accept help when we need it.

Using this definition as its foundation, William Hanlon started the Personal Care Bank during the pandemic, with a goal to “ensure that all who need care items have access to them” in Toronto. There are now several care banks across the city, including one just outside of bare market, a sustainable grocery store located at Danforth and Monarch Park avenues. The banks have been colourfully painted by local artists, which makes them eye-catching amidst the grey pavement. TPCB embodies a “leave what you can, take what you need” philosophy, and the items they provide can include anything from dental hygiene products and soap to menstrual products and shaving cream.

As well as requesting specific items for their banks, TPCB has an extensive list of items they will not accept. One of their main missions is not only to provide personal care products to anyone in need, but to provide quality products. The organization’s top priority, Olynyk says, “is keeping people safe.” Because the banks are accessible to anyone, vulnerable people could be among those using them. Razors, rubbing alcohol, and vitamins are excluded from donations for these reasons, as well as used, opened, and outdated items, or “any product that you wouldn’t feel comfortable using yourself.”

Along with prioritizing quality, TPCB aims to be sustainable, as they don’t want to sacrifice the environment in their efforts to support their community. So, TPCB includes natural, handmade products, often from local businesses, and reuses items when it is safe. An example of this is TPCB’s collaboration with sustainable soap companies like, Sage & Thistle Handmade Goods, and Tili Handmade Studio. These businesses send their offcuts (remaining slices of soap bars that have not been used, but won’t be sold) to TPCB to be repurposed. Sometimes the offcuts are enough, and other times they are melted down or moulded into soap bars. Either way, unused, high-quality, sustainable soap is being refashioned into a brand new bar for someone in need. They also receive donations of natural products, like from the vegan brand Lush.

What’s more, TPCB promotes environmental care by building bee-friendly gardens into the tops of some of their banks. This creates another community activity through collaborative gardening, and it also supports natural food production, giving bees a place to collect pollen and thrive in a city environment.

In May 2022, Olynyk led a collaboration between TPCB and a local sustainable paper business called Roll Up. Vik and JJ, the founders of Roll Up, started their business to promote the importance of sustainability in everyday products (particularly toilet paper), while also making it fun with beautiful designs on the reusable wrappings. Roll Up’s products are made entirely from bamboo, which is biodegradable and requires less water to harvest than trees, as well as no fossil fuels. Roll Up donates hundreds of toilet paper rolls to TPCB each month, which are distributed to the banks. Owner JJ emphasized that, through this partnership, not only is Roll Up contributing to their neighbourhood and those who can’t afford regular toilet paper, but they are providing high quality toilet paper that is also eco-friendly.

It’s neighbours helping neighbours.

Over the past couple years, The Personal Care Bank has made a significant difference in so many lives by providing essential personal care items to anyone who needs them and building a community of considerate people who want to support each other in their sustainable lifestyles. TPCB is promoting sustainability in all areas of life; neighbourhoods are achieving positive change and communal support; local artists are displaying their work; and even bees have new homes and plants to pollinate. TPCB’s work is about “acknowledg[ing] that there are people not being served by the systems that exist in this community,” and providing the best products that benefit its residents, the city’s quality of life, and the earth. “It’s neighbours helping neighbours,” Olynyk says. “These are the people I want to be around.”

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