The COVID-19 pandemic has made this past year difficult for all Quebecers, but when forced into lockdown back in March, one Notre-Dame-de-Grace (NDG) woman took it upon herself to give back to the homeless community in the best way she knew how.
“There was always a need there before, but it has hugely increased since the pandemic,” said Bread and Beyond founder Kirstie Jagoe.
What started as something to do with her teenage boys has now become a not-for-profit organization with more than 100 volunteers across the city, providing sandwiches and other goods to seven local shelters.
“When I go food shopping and I’m making these sandwiches, I often think, ‘I wonder who will open this package and what is their story?’ Here I am in my warm, comfortable home and imagining what life must be like for these poor people,” said volunteer Lesley Levy.
Bread and Beyond went from making 250 sandwiches per week to about 2,000.
“It’s so rewarding but it doesn’t feel like it’s enough,” said Levy.
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“They’re forgotten, and they’re just left on the wayside. They’re just at the bottom of the list,” added volunteer Gigi Russ.
“I think we should really (be) thinking globally as a community. We’re all here together as people.”
Following strict sanitary protocols, each sandwich is labeled and individually wrapped. Volunteers get to lend a helping hand, all while respecting public health restrictions.
But many feel more needs to be done about the homelessness crisis in the city.
“I wish we could work towards something better than a band-aid solution — which is important, of course, but it isn’t enough,” said Levy.
Students from LCC, Loyola, Villa Maria, Sacred Heart, FACE and Ecole Rudolf Steiner have also joined in to help.
“They do their community service program with us. They make the sandwiches at home and they bring the sandwiches to school,” said Jagoe.
The pandemic has worsened the issues surrounding homelessness in Montreal. With a lockdown, an 8 p.m. curfew, cold weather and strict sanitary measures, shelters are finding it difficult to keep community members housed and fed.
“We used to have a lot of volunteers come to help us out before COVID and now we’re not allowed to have any so it makes a huge difference,” said Catherine Vachon, head of food services with Old Brewery Mission.
“It saves us about two hours of labour per day for our team which we can put into the other three meals that we serve.”
Based on the shelters’ needs, the organization builds monthly campaigns to deliver other essentials such as socks and underwear.
“This month (of January), it’s basically top to toe so we’re giving hats, gloves, hand warmers, socks and underwear all the way through,” said Jagoe.
The organization has distributed approximately 35,000 sandwiches to the city’s most vulnerable since March, 2020.