Food for Thought is a new column investigating food services at McGill and documenting the conversations happening on campus around food affordability and accessibility.
Recently reported food insecurity on McGill’s campus reflects a city and nation-wide trend. Overall, the leading causes of food insecurity are poverty and an economic climate that has recently further exposed and entrenched people in poverty. Indeed, since 2019, food bank visits have skyrocketed, with the highest year-over-year increase in usage since the aftermath of the 2008 to 2009 recession. Stagnant provincial social assistance rates, end of pandemic-related benefits, and soaring inflation have all affected the ability of individuals in Canada to feed themselves and their families. Statistics Canada stated in January that Canada’s Consumer Price Index rose 6.3 per cent year-over-year in December 2022, fuelled by an 11 per cent jump in prices for food purchased from stores. Food inflation hovered around the 11 per cent mark during the last five months of 2022. To face this food crisis, various people and organisations are mobilising and trying to meet rising need. Among these, Resilience Montreal, created in 2019 by the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, is a community-led project to support the homeless population in the Cabot Square area.
The number of individuals experiencing food insecurity in Montreal has continued to increase since the onset of the pandemic. According to Moisson Montreal’s Hunger Report, nearly 900,000 requests for food assistance were made to Moisson Montreal’s partner organizations in 2022 – an increase of 25.8 per cent from the previous year. Rising inflation and the pandemic have given way to this rapid rise in food insecurity. For context, Moisson Montreal reported 600,000 requests to food pantries made in 2019, which was a continuation of a downward trend in previous years.
Furthermore, food insecurity is a crucial issue in Montreal because it persists in circumstances of already existing crises regarding homelessness. In March 2020, the city of Montreal declared a state of emergency regarding the population of homeless people. Montreal has the highest number of homeless people in Quebec. The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness estimated in 2018 that 3149 people were experiencing homelessness at the time. While the effects of COVID-19 cannot be fully measured yet, many experts believe this number could be multiplied five or ten times this year. According to a 2020 report from the Milton-Parc Citizens Committee, out of these individuals, an Indigenous person is 27 times more likely to experience homelessness than a non-Indigenous person, and an Inuit person is 80 times more likely to experience homelessness. According to the Milton-Parc Citizens Committee, Indigenous people often find inadequate support systems in cities and discrimination in housing and job markets.
Organizations like Resilience Montreal have noticed an uptick in their number of clientele seeking food support and services. They provide access to sleeping areas, showers, computers, clothing, first aid, a host of intervention services, and notably, three meals a day. Resilience offers a hot breakfast, a hot lunch, and a takeaway dinner for after the shelter closes every day at 3 PM.
Margo Buchanan, Logistics, Community Program and Volunteer Coordinator, tells the Daily that Resilience’s food services have changed since the onset of the pandemic. When the organization started in 2019, they served three hot meals a day to roughly 60 to 80 people, Buchanan explains. Because of COVID-19, they had to begin providing their services outdoors in the park mid-2020. Individuals seeking meals went up to 100 per meal, as they were serving an open park and anyone could now get food. Consequently, they had to reduce their services to two hot meals a day and one takeaway meal. In September 2020 they moved back inside, but the demand kept climbing. “When we moved back inside, […] we started at 100 and then word got out that the food was good and we hired a lot of kitchen staff and then it went from 100 to 150, and then within three months, we were already up to 300,” says Buchanan. As of January 2021, Resilience serves around 300 people per meal.
Buchanan stresses the importance of ensuring their food is not only nourishing for their clientele, but also delicious. Once a week, Resilience Montreal has “Traditional Food Tuesdays,” where they provide traditional meals for Indigenous people. On these Tuesdays, they will serve seafood, often raw, and other traditionally Inuit cuisine, as that is the largest group of Indigenous peoples served by Resilience. She further explains that if there are First Nations clientele in the area, they will also serve a traditional First Nations meal – such as caribou, tacos with local meats, or moose burgers – alongside the Inuit meal. “The overall goal of providing traditional food Tuesdays is to give people a sense of home and community and make them feel seen and understood and highlight how important their culture is to us as well,” adds Buchanan. Meals from recent weeks include cold caribou, arctic char and hot caribou ribs with rice, and caribou heart stew with bannock, frozen caribou and arctic char.
Buchanan explains that it is mostly the intervention workers at Resilience who coordinate and prepare the hot meal service. Because of the large clientele that they serve, Resilience mostly relies on big collectives – such as the Community Cooks Collective – to make individual elements of the meals for them to then be combined on site at Resilience. They also have networks of organizations and individuals throughout Montreal who donate baked goods for the takeaway lunches, Buchanan says, and the organization Bread and Beyond makes sandwiches for Resilience (which they need by the thousands every week). They also get a large amount of food every week from Moisson Montreal. “It’s a huge group effort [from] people across the city,” says Buchanan, “That’s the only reason we’re able to reach the numbers that we are.”
Resilience does everything possible to ensure they provide the best quality food for every single person. Buchanan explains that Resilience “[tries] to do our best to remind them that they’re important despite their experience in the street every day.” Buchanan adds that for Traditional Food Tuesdays, because it’s often seafood they offer for Inuit clientele, they will often buy ingredients in store if they don’t have the donations. “We take so much pride in the work that we do, which is why we spend so much money despite having this huge network of people that make us food, because we really do try to give them the best quality food,” she says, “and honestly, [the food] is great.”
Despite this large network of support, Resilience is always looking for more people to get involved. Buchanan stresses that donations from Bread and Beyond to Resilience often drop off over the summer in particular, as the organizations partners with elementary and high schools to make the sandwiches. She explains that a great way to help would be to volunteer for Bread and Beyond over the summer, or other organizations like the Community Cooks Collective, which also in turn help support the other shelters across the city. Beyond that, Buchanan says that they are always looking for volunteers at Resilience to help serve and make food, either on site or at home.
If you are interested in getting involved, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.