For Roona Maloney it was too much to bear to watch the Children’s Storefront building be demolished after a fire caused irreparable damage in late October.
The executive director of the Annex play studio for more than five years has both a professional and personal connection to the facility — she brought her children there over 20 years ago.
“I saw my oldest son take his first steps there,” Maloney said. “I was heartbroken and it took a while for it to sink in.”
In the early morning hours of Oct. 31, Toronto Fire crews battled a three-alarm fire in the Bathurst and Dupont building that housed the Children’s Storefront. It took over 80 firefighters nearly five hours to extinguish the blaze.
Three days later, excavation crews in the burned building discovered the body of Marie Speck, 50, who has been hailed a hero for alerting residents to the fire.
“No one else was hurt because of her actions,” said Constable Tony Vella.
But for Maloney, losing the Children’s Storefront was like losing a member of the family, she said.
“It was a sad day for all of us,” she said. “When I arrived (to the scene) there were many neighbourhood families crying. Even then the building looked largely unsalvageable.”
The Children’s Storefront, started in 1975, was a drop-in centre where children and parents could socialize with their neighbours.
Open seven days a week, the centre was used on average by 70 families a day, and had an unstructured program of activities for young children.
“It is rare to find a service like this that is completely free,” Maloney said. “You never have to make an appointment, families were just welcome to drop in. We always had an extra set of volunteers to watch over the kids, to listen when you had a problem or just to chat.”
Now, Maloney and a board of directors are trying to bring the community institution back. She estimates it will take close to $100,000 to reopen in a new location.
Although it gets municipal and provincial funding, the board is responsible for raising the money for a move to a new location, and the cost of replacing materials that were lost in the fire.
They are hoping to raise this money through fundraising initiatives like a garage sale, to be held Dec. 19 and 20 at Scadding Court Community Centre. There will also be a one-woman show at The Second City, with all proceeds going to the Children’s Storefront.
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