Making ends meet

Anthony Abbondanza
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A Ma Baie resident among thousands of West Islanders in need of food banks this holiday season

On Rock founder Kim Reid has helped replenish the Smith household shelves with food over the last five years.

In what most West Islanders would consider unimaginable has become a weekly routine for Mrs. Smith.

Supporting a family of 12, the 44-year-old Nigerian-native, whose real identity shall remain anonymous, leaves her A Ma Baie residence every Monday for the helpful assistance of On Rock Ministries’ food bank.

Not unlike other families under similar socioeconomic conditions in one of Canada’s poorest postal codes, the in-and-out of work Mrs. Smith is having a difficult time getting by this holiday season.

“The need for food is always the same, only that now that the children are home for the holidays, they have more time to eat, so there are more mouths to feed,”  said Mrs. Smith, who emigrated from her native Nigeria to Montreal in 2007 in search of better living conditions.

While raising 10 children, ages four to 20, and collecting government-assisted income and monthly pension cheques, decisions to pay rent or buy groceries is a daily conundrum for the Smith household.  

With the help of On Rock, however, that financial dilemma is mitigated – if only temporary.

 “A lot of things I get from them I can’t even afford buying from the store. I have a big family. I know how they’ve been helpful to me. I’m really grateful to them,” she said.

Approximately 1200 families use food baskets issued by On Rock Ministries, West Island Mission, and West Island Assistance Fund (WIAF) every month. 

And while it remains largely an affluent area, the West Island has seen an increased need for food banks in recent years. 

According to On Rock founder Kim Reid, the non-profit organization went from issuing 43 baskets in 2005 to 180 as recently as last week. Of the 180 that depend on the Pierrefonds-based organization, most come from the same area – A Ma Baie.

“The perception is that the West Island is this affluent place but if you look at Pierrefonds, it has one of the poorest postal codes in all of Canada. You have people making an average of $12,000 in A Ma Baie to guys who have million-dollar yachts,” said Reid. 

Of the 1,414 social and community housing units in Pierrefonds, most are found in A Ma Baie, also known as Cloverdale Sector which lies in the east end of the borough tucked away between Dollard des Ormeaux and Bois de Liesse Nature Park, cut off from neighbourhood stores and access to public transit.

“The perception is that they’re poor and sucking money out of the welfare system. What most people don’t realize is that their welfare cheques are not enough to pay rent,” said Reid, who’ll be on hand Dec. 21 for On Rock’s Christmas basket and food distribution. 

The West Island Mission has also experienced a similar increase in demand for its food baskets. The local organization delivered a total of 1500 food baskets to West Islanders in need in 2012; that’s nearly six times the baskets it issued in 2004, the year before the West Island Mission’s founding.

The non-profit organization delivered approximately 260 food baskets –the equivalent of 900 persons, 479 of which will be children under the age of 17 – on Dec. 14 as part of its Christmas baskets campaign. “Our hope is that we can give these families some holiday joy and chances to celebrate the season as the rest of us do,” said Wendy Gariepy, director of operations at West Island Mission, which located in Pierrefonds.

But does supply always meet increased demand for holiday baskets?

On Rock has benefited from holiday food drives of six local Tim Hortons and of various other West Island companies. It’s during the Christmas season when “all kinds of people and companies are throwing food at you” said Reid, noting the importance of receiving nutritious non-perishable food items.

To the contrary, the WIAF’s food store is nearly empty according to Suzanne Tremblay, director of food services.

“Yes and no” said Tremblay when asked if she was worried with the lack of stored food given Christmas is a mere three weeks away.

Opened since 1966, the WIAF is expected to serve 400 families this month, regardless of the shortfall in stock.

“I think more people will need it this year. People who have lost their jobs, or are working part-time or on call will come,” said Tremblay

Should they not receive sufficient food donations in time, the food director said the organization will ask for Moisson Montreal’s help.

In the meantime, Mrs. Smith, as well as other financially-challenged West Islanders, will continue to face their daily reality to put food on the table.

For more information on the aforementioned food banks, visit www.onrock.org, www.wimmoi.org, and www.fdoi.org.

Follow @AAbbondanza on Twitter

Organizations: West Island Assistance Fund, Tim Hortons

Geographic location: West Island, Canada, Pierrefonds Nigeria Montreal Rock Ministries Bois de Liesse Nature Park

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