“…more than just a meal”

By P.A. Sévigny on March 25, 2010

After twenty years on the front lines in the war against poverty on the mean streets of Cote Des Neiges, people at the MultiCaf project are still working hard to provide basic food security and social support networks for the district’s poor. Decades after the organization first opened its doors, MultiCaf is still working hard to help empower the local residents through an assortment of social action initiatives with a number of new programs aimed at feeding the poor and the disabled. As one of the borough’s foremost social and economic activists, Outremont businessman Francois Pilon said he was more than impressed with everything the MultiCaf people were doing in their district. 

“As long as they keep on doing what they’ve been doing for the past 20 years,” said Pilon, “…we could be seeing a lot more parties over the next 20 years.”

During a brief interview, program director Alain Landry said he was just as surprised as he was proud of what his organization achieved over the past few years. Apart from everything else the MUltiCaf project does in the borough, Landry and his executive are determined to make sure basic food security issues remain at the core of the organization’s social mission. From nothing more than a tiny storefront organization with little money and lots of good intentions, Multicaf now employs up to a dozen people who provide up to 300 balanced meals per day, manage a food bank, operate a ‘meals on wheels’ program, provide baby formula for impoverished mothers while running a second-hand clothing store for the district’s poor who can’t afford to buy new clothes. 

“We get a lot of help from various organizations,” said Landry. “Centraide and the borough do a lot to help us maintain our operations but nothing could be done without our volunteers.” As of last year, Landry said 268 volunteers contributed over 32 000 hours of unpaid labor on a daily basis as they helped cook and serve meals, deliver food for the ‘meals on wheels’ program, run the food bank and open the center’s new school lunch project.

“It’s only when I started helping others that I began to know how lucky I am,” said one of the organization’s volunteers. She didn’t want to be identified because she said “…there’s lots of others who do what I do so why should I get all the attention?” 

While MultiCaf does a lot to make sure nobody starves in the Darlington district of Cote Des Neiges, the district is still the second poorest area in the city where nearly 90 000 people live in an area that is one quarter the size of Westmount or Hampstead. As a former community activist, Pierre Balcer’s poem, La Pauvreté pour moi, said it all. Apart from its harrowing description of the scorched souls and the humiliation of being forced to scrounge for a restaurant’s leftovers, Balcer’s poem reflects the grim realities of what it really means to starve while walking the streets of Montreal. As one of the organization’s working executives, MultiCaf executive Jean Pierre Laniel said it’s sad but the public still can’t understand how bad luck and a few weeks are all that left between someone’s last paycheck and life on the streets. As far as Laniel is concerned, very few people know what really happens when the money runs out and there’s still two weeks to go before the government’s next check. 

“People should know there are plenty of good reasons why people fall into the poverty trap,” he said. “Getting work is one thing but what can you do if you’re sick and can’t work? It doesn’t take long before there’s nothing in the fridge and you haven’t eaten anything for a couple of days.”

During last week’s reception held in the district’s popular community center, project executives made sure all the community’s leaders, local police officers and various activists had a place at the table for their party. Even as over 100 guests shared a dinner which included roast duck on a bed of long-grain rice and vegetables, more than a few people noticed how few, if any, of the borough’s politicians were at the dinner. Eventually, after presenting his excuses because of a city executive council meeting that stretched into the early evening, borough Mayor Michael Applebaum did show up between the main course and dessert after which he praised and sincerely thanked both Landry and everyone in the MultiCaf organization for all they do for the people in the district and for the rest of the borough. 

“We’re grateful for everything they [the borough’s council] does for us,” said Landry. “It wouldn’t be the same without their help.”

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