Concordia students make meals for people in need

Concordia University’s Multi-Faith and Spirituality Centre (MFSC) held the first Multi-Faith: Meals to the Streets event of 2020 in the Z Annex on Jan. 21.

The event, which has been taking place monthly throughout the school year since approximately 2010, gathers students from all faiths and cultures to cook and distribute healthy meals to the homeless.

“Meals to the Streets is an opportunity for us to make food together, build friendships, and put something back into the community,” said Ashely Crouch, who has been the MFSC’s Interfaith Facilitator since 2017.

Meals to the Streets was originally started by the previous Interfaith Facilitator, Laura Gallo, and different religious student groups.

“They wanted to do something positive and decided this outreach program was a great day to do that,” said Crouch. She explained that she kept the program going when she took over the position because the feedback from students was so positive.

Each time the event is held, about 15 to 20 students collaborate to make 80 to 100 burritos and muffins, which they put together into paper lunch bags with a juice box or a banana.

“We’re not solving issues of homelessness or poverty, but we’re enabling students to go out, interact with people, understand their situation, and provide them with a warm meal for the day,” said Crouch.

Crouch encourages students to use the Meals to the Streets event as an opportunity to have conversations with the homeless people they are giving meals to and learn their stories.

“I’m interested in getting to talk to people who have fewer resources and less luck in life, to see why they are there and what they think about their situation. I think it’s a nice action,” said Jules Dourson, who attended the event for the first time.

Crouch hopes this kind of event will change the perceptions people have of the homeless by helping them understand the different reasons they might end up in these situations.

“When you’re giving the lunches and interacting with people, sometimes it’s the first time someone’s talking to them in days,” said Kaye-Anne Bunting, a fourth-year undergraduate student who was volunteering with the MFSC for the third time. “It’s nice to interact personally with them and offer something and let them know there are people in the wider community that care about them.”

Meals to the Streets is also an opportunity for students to learn about direct ways to help the homeless.

“If you live on the streets, the first thing to go is your dental care, so a lot of homeless people have trouble eating harder food,” said Crouch, which is why the students make soft burritos. She added that many people donate processed foods, so she believes the healthy vegan burrito is a nice change.

This year, the MFSC is partnering with Community COMPASS and the LIVE Centre to help them have conversations with students about long-term solutions to homelessness as opposed to quick fixes.

It’s a little step, it’s not going to stop starvation, but maybe having a connection with someone will help lighten their day,” said Dourson.

In addition to connecting with people in the street, Meals to the Streets is an opportunity for students to interact with each other and make new friends.

“I think it’s good for student life to do things that are good for the community because it fosters closeness between them,” said Bunting, who appreciates meeting people from different faculties and countries and learning about them at these events.

“It’s nice to talk to people from different cultures, and I’m looking forward to connecting with people in the streets as well,” said Dourson.

Crouch hopes that students who volunteer at Meals to the Streets learn something and have conversations with others to change their perceptions of homeless people. “And if after that they want to get involved in soup kitchens and legislation, then that’s even better,” she said.

The next Multi-Faith: Meals to the Streets event will take place on Feb. 18 at the Multi-Faith and Spiritual Centre’s office in the Z Annex, 2090 Mackay St.


Photos by Laurence B.D.


Take a break to volunteer

Community Compass is Concordia’s new experiential learning program

Concordia University has introduced a new community-based experiential learning program called Community Compass. The program allows Concordia students to sign up with  organizations that partnered with the university to volunteer during reading week.

Through various organizations in Montreal, students can register for four and a half days, or they can choose to volunteer for five days at Camp Kinkora in the Laurentians. Partner organizations include StopGap, a foundation that builds ramps to improve wheelchair accessibility around the city and Santropol Roulant, a community food hub in Plateau Mont-Royal, among many others.

As of Monday morning, 59 people were registered in the program. Alex Oster, the coordinator of student engagement at the Dean of Students office, said Community Compass will increase the number of partnering organizations, given its success this year.

Manager of Resident Life, Rich Swaminathan, set up the program, which was assessed and reinvented by Oster.

Community Compass is a new version of the Alternative Spring Break program from 2009-10, according to Oster. He said the program is “reimagined, to better align with students’ capacity mid-semester.” After seeing a decline in the registration for the Alternative Spring Break program in the last three years, Oster said the university conducted an assessment of the program’s strengths and weaknesses to create a new one that better accommodates the students.

Oster said that, for now, Community Compass will be focusing on the reading week program, however, it can also be used as a resource for students who want to get involved in their community, throughout the year.

Students who register for the program are automatically accepted, but there is limited availability per organization. “We’ve focused on making it as accessible as possible,” said Oster. “We want the program to be the first step into a lifestyle of volunteering and civic engagement.”

The program’s aim is to teach students about some of the critical social and economic issues in the Montreal community, according to Oster, whether it’s homelessness, a lack of accessibility or food poverty. “For example, students helping the StopGap foundation here in Montreal can help build and install ramps for single-stair entrances,” said Oster. “Many of us who are able-bodied don’t even notice this tiny step that prevents a wheelchair user from entering a public space.” He added, “It is an incredible chance to serve others.”

The reading week program’s option in the Laurentians is financed by the George and Helen Coward Endowment. The fund was created when the late Kenneth Coward made a donation to engage students in critical thinking and personal reflection to enrich their academic experience and foster civic responsibility, according to Oster.

Camp Kinkora is a foundation that offers camp experiences for community groups, especially marginalized and underprivileged groups. Oster said “they host an LGBTQ youth camp, for example.” Student volunteers help the Camp Kinkora crew prepare their facilities for their busy spring and summer seasons.

Find more information on Concordia’s website.

Graphic by @spooky_soda.

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