Since my arrival in Montreal on the 22nd of August 2014, I’ve felt as if the city has given me a huge amount; I’ve been granted with countless opportunities, I’ve kept thousands of memories and I’ve had many unforgettable experiences. It was time to give something back. I wanted to walk the linear streets lined with trees which I had wandered on my first few days here, tracing back my steps but with a sense of purpose and well-being, confident with my surroundings and in appreciation of what this multicultural city has offered me.
I’ve always been interested in grassroots organisations which, through food, sustainability and local connections, seek to help the wider community in an exceptionally beneficial way. I remember during my week at McGill University I walked past a vegetable patch on campus. It had large lettuces, cabbages and green plants growing and people were working, their shoulders exposed to the warm sun. That image is still exceptionally vivid in my mind and it encapsulates a lot of what I am interested in: local people sustaining themselves and the wider community through sustainable initiatives.
After researching good places to volunteer – Montreal has a LOT – I found the perfect organisation: Santropol Roulant. They are a locally based organisation who seek to help those in Montreal with a loss of autonomy, whether that be due to emotional illness, age or physical disability.
Their mission sums up their objectives far better than I could:
“Santropol Roulant uses food as a vehicle to break social and economic isolation between generations and cultures. Creatively and collaboratively, we strengthen and nourish our local community with our novel approaches to active youth engagement, urban food systems, food security and community care.”
So, after a volunteer training session to get involved and become acquainted with how the organisation worked, I strolled along to a building covered in ivy, graffiti and peace signs on the cold afternoon of December 5th. I had signed up for a delivery shift, in which I dropped off about 15 hot meals to people all across Montreal.
I was given a red, insulated backpack which I filled with packaged meals, all of which were made in the kitchen using locally bought or grown food. Myself and my partner Samantha were given a map of our area and delivery route; we were going to deliver to clients in the Mile End area of Montreal, a beautiful residential neighbourhood lined with the spiralling staircase that had come to be, for me, the epitome of urban Montreal.
And off we went. We delivered to a multitude of different people, some in houses, others in apartments. Everyone who greeted us at their door of their home had a smile on their face and it made me really content to give them something that I knew would make their day better. We talked to some for a while, asking them about their day, wishing them a Merry Christmas and even secretly ate chocolate mint sweeties with them. It was an exceptionally fulfilling experience. My backpack slowly became lighter as we trailed the streets following our map. It felt like a treasure hunt, where the treasure was simply the satisfaction you could see on a resident’s face as you gave them their meal.
I believe volunteering in a place, regardless of where you are, can really open up an area to you, whether that is geographically or socially. I enjoyed walking the streets of a new neighbourhood, but I also really enjoyed giving a little bit back to the city which has been so kind to me. Santropol Roulant delivers 100 meals a day, and a huge number of volunteers and helpers are needed in order to make those meals and deliver them to people. Such an initiative is an exceptionally big project and a lot of its working is down to volunteers and motivated individuals. I felt slightly overwhelmed by how little one person could do, but incredibly captivated by how much a group of individuals can do.
I have kept up contact with Santropol Roulant and I plan to have my second semester at McGill University permeated with a red, insulated backpack full of food to deliver.