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A North End neighborhood, known for its problems with drug crimes, has received a provincial award for its unique method of keeping drug dealers at bay by serving milk and cookies at the apartment buildings that make up the community.

"People were getting sick and tired of the drug dealers hanging around," said Barbara Bielskis, a resident of the Jane-Finch community.

"So we set up welcoming tables in the lobby with coffee, cookies, juice, milk and community information. Residents started stopping and chatting and getting to know one another. It made the drug dealers nervous, and pretty soon they moved on."

The community, named for the main streets that intersect at its heart, was originally designed in the 1960s to be a model for low-income and public housing in the suburbs. But it began to suffer.

To combat the problems and bring residents together "in a tender way," resident George Fadler said, the community and police have been joining forces to establish a wide range of services.

Sgt. Jim Muscot, police spokesman, said even though police had no hand in the welcome lobby program, the milk-and-cookies approach to fighting drug dealers is part of a program of "natural surveillance," known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.

Criminals prefer to operate in areas where they are not seen, so places that encourage people to go out at night and environments with few hiding places because shrubbery has been reduced have lower crime rates, Muscot said.

Sgt. Clay Mitchell who works in the division that includes Jane-Finch said police there have made a lot of effort to help the community.

"We have a breakfast club there for the kids who might not get breakfast," he said. All of this is part of the police effort to counter the influence of trouble-making youths on area kids.

In recognition of their efforts to improve the community, the Jane-Finch community received the Caring Community Award from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The award includes a $13,000 (U.S.) cash prize.

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