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Greater Montreal 211 helpline sees uptick in calls, requests for food assistance amid pandemic

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Montreal food banks see massive increase in food demand' Coronavirus outbreak: Montreal food banks see massive increase in food demand
Coronavirus: Montreal food banks see massive increase in food demand – Apr 25, 2020

The Grand Montréal 211 line — a free referral helpline and web service that helps connect residents to community and social services in the Greater Montreal area — has seen a 238 per cent uptick in calls since the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic in March.

In the Montreal area alone, nearly 10,000 calls have been logged with various requests for assistance.

The service is made available through a partnership with Centraide and the Montreal Metropolitan Community and covers 82 municipalities — roughly half of Quebec’s population.

While the 211 service provides help to those in need, Centraide said it is also a source of invaluable information.

“It allows us to identify needs and recruit additional resources as needed,” said Mario Régis, vice-president of social development for Centraide of Greater Montreal.

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The greatest need identified so far by 211 is linked to food security, which Régis said represents 44 per cent of cases.

READ MORE: Local Montreal charities in desperate need of help during pandemic

Montreal community organizations can attest to that.

“We’ve seen the need increase exponentially,” said Sun Youth communications director Ann St Arnaud, referring to its food bank services.

“Before we used to have 100 deliveries per week. Now it’s 150 per day.”

The same situation is happening at the NDG Food Depot.

“We’ve gone up generally from serving a little over 100 new people during a month, to serving about 100 new people a day,” said Kim Fox, director of programming at the depot.

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Fox said the pandemic is making it difficult for some residents to make ends meet.

“A lot of people have recently lost work or have had a major decrease in the amount of hours that they’re able to work, so a decrease in their income,” she said.

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Meeting the growing food needs is also a challenge for those trying to help out.

“Normally at this time of the year in March our food stocks are getting low already so we usually have to start buying food,” said St Arnaud.

Fox, for her part, said that for the month of April alone, the depot will have served up about 100,000 pounds of food — which represents close to half of the organization’s annual budget.

READ MORE: Solidarity fund launched to aid West Island charities hurt by COVID-19

While Centraide has come through with some funding for both organizations through its COVID-19 emergency fund, donations are always welcome.

“The best way really to help us is go through our website you can donate online,” said St Arnaud.

“It’s really easy and it really helps and you can even leave a word of encouragement on our website with your donation.”

Like Sun Youth, the NDG Food Depot isn’t looking for volunteers at the moment but rather donors.

“The best thing that people can do really is donate. We’ve had an amazing support from our community and that’s the best way to help right now as we are still social distancing.”

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