Carpenter turns construction materials into quality furniture

His charitable foundation upcycles castoffs from midtown condo sites for those in need

BRIAN BAKER/STREETER
A MAN AND HIS GARAGE: It took Gem Silva four months to find a garage where he can fashion his furniture out of rescued refuse from construction sites he works on.

With all the construction affecting Yonge and Eglinton, it’s good to know someone is using the refuse it produces to help improve life in the city.

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Gem Silva, a midtown cement mixer whose craft of upcycling castoffs from job sites and turning them into spectacular furniture pieces is catching the attention of local charities.

Born in Minas Gerais, Brazil, Silva came to Toronto with his family when he was seven.

Today the 33-year-old’s sideline, Gem Eco-Friendly Recycling Foundation, is a charitable foundation looking to provide furniture to those in need. He takes the refuse from job sites (pallets, cable spools, doors, pipes, and glass) and turns them into coffee tables, chairs, and even bed frames.

Not able to perform his hobby while on his regular carpentering job, he had to seek a garage. After all, he lives in a 700-square-foot apartment with his partner Jackie and two children.

It took Silva four months to find a garage close to his home and, after asking his son to pray, the following workday, a garage popped up on Kijiji that was a stone’s throw away. The owner of the garage had it sitting empty and they had decided over the weekend to put it on Kijiji.

“This is not out of nowhere. It was meant to happen,” Silva said.

He’s taken pallets and turned them into shelving units for local businesses like Hair Love on Redpath Avenue. Helping him is his good friend Bruno Monteiro, and Silva’s son Javen.

Being someone who has worked in construction myself, I know how much waste a job site can produce in one day, let alone a week or a month. I’m also the son of a carpenter, so seeing Silva’s handy work is certainly inspiring.

He’s recently connected with Toronto’s Tool Library executive director, Lawrence Alvarez, and co-founder Ryan Dyment, to feature his work in the parking lots of each branch.

The two charities look to raise money for their services by setting up the patio furniture outside of Tool Library locations.

He has big dreams for Gem Eco-Friendly Recycling Foundation — as lofty as the condos he helps to build. The Tool Library has played a big role in focusing those dreams.

Although Silva has faced criticism for donating a lot of the furniture he’s provided, he believes everyone needs help these days.

“I don’t want to divide classes. I believe that everyone needs something,” Silva said. “It’s not just the poor, the rich need something too. They need to see that there are people with good hearts [and] don’t forget we need them to help.”

That means putting in good work in order to get money to provide more furniture for those that need it. Additionally, Silva wants to teach the craft of upcycling construction waste to those willing to pick up the tools to join.

After that, Silva hopes to expand his foundation’s board.

“We need people to come in and embrace it. It’s not just about myself anymore,” he said. “We put the first brick in the foundation, but now we need people with different backgrounds for input.”

 

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Toronto-based journalist, fighting the power one deadline at a time.

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