Jennifer Lobréau is the Director of Community Development for St. Vincent de Paul for the St. Francis Solano Conference*. Her team is committed to prioritizing food assistance to vulnerable people, and has made this service point a focal place in the Rosemont area.
Before physically returning to the conferences (point of services), they would send out food coupons so that people could still buy food. With all the health measures to be respected, a team of volunteers has been taking care of these emergency food measures since May.
Some of the volunteers call people back from their homes, then appointments are made for a whole day, once a month, which allows about 50 people to have access to an emergency food assistance session. With all the public health recommendations they have to limit the numbers to 50. "We had a big boom in March and April, especially. And then we came back to fairly normal figures. It's calmed down because of government aid, but we're preparing for when CERB will stop. There will surely be another increase in demand", says Lobréau.
This is how it works. When people show up at the point of service, they get a food coupon that they can exchange for groceries. There is also a "mini grocery store" where they can choose different items: "These are donations we receive. We also appeal to Moisson Montreal and we have a partnership with Bouffe-Action Rosemont in the framework of a project called P.L.A.N. They bring us fresh foodstuffs which they recover in Rosemont from grocery stores and small merchants, to avoid food waste", reports the director.
Soli-70 is a project that also developed in the context of Covid 19, where people aged 70 and over were quite strictly confined: "People who needed food were blocked, so there was a whole delivery system that was set up to enable them to have access to food. This service was set up for people aged 70 and over and people with reduced mobility," indicates the coordinator of the project. As the volunteers were quite old, the team launched a call to social networks and many self-help groups were set up: "It's almost as if new volunteers who are quite young took charge of going to do the grocery shopping for the people and then delivering it to them. It created a pretty impressive safety net, followed by a sense of solidarity," says Jennifer Lobréau.
The motivations may vary among all those who give their time and energy to the services of the most vulnerable: "They are not necessarily religious, but at Saint-François Solano we are working with the (Adventist) church to put things in place together, because they realize that we are helping many people and they want to contribute to that".
A surge of solidarity from home
If many volunteers could not go out due to age, they did not hesitate to use their entire network of contacts to help each other. The younger ones were in the field: "In terms of solidarity, we've never seen anything like it, it increased a lot, even though people were limited."
For the moment, the service points are almost all open again: "It's still encouraging. And if it doesn't open physically, it is re-organized in a different way".
Libre Espace Rosemont... a project to follow!
The Libre Espace Rosemont is a project in collaboration with other organizations that has been temporarily put on pause due to COVID 19. The idea is to create a place where people coming for food aid would feel welcome. They could have a coffee and find someone on site to refer them to resources if needed.
There is already a social worker at the Saint-François-Solano service point for food assistance days that is ready to offer referral tools to the beneficiaries: "Depending on their needs, we can direct them and then listen to them. There's the axis of food aid, but it is clear that welcoming, listening and referrals are important to us because it is the basis of our actions at Saint-Vincent de Paul and we want to keep it that way. It makes the difference when you come to get your emergency food aid service and you are received with dignity. So people feel comfortable, they don't feel judged or seen negatively." In the same vein, Jennifer says that the premises will be refurbished to be as welcoming as possible, as soon as the situation allows.
*Conferences: Name given to the points of service of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.
Visit the Saint-Vincent de Paul Society website: https://ssvp-mtl.org/en