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.


engAGE-ing in research to reasses aging

Concordia research centre explores music therapy, community programs, technology

As Concordia’s newest research unit, the engAGE centre has one very specific focus: interdisciplinary, innovative research that aims to improve the lives of elderly people.

Funded by the office of the vice-president of research and graduate studies, the engAGE centre features research from all four of Concordia’s faculties.

According to Shannon Hebblethwaite, the director of the engAGE centre and an associate professor in the department of applied human sciences, the centre specializes in diverse and community-focused research that “aspires to change how we think about aging.”

“EngAGE researchers partner with older people and their communities to address challenges and facilitate opportunities in all realms of life—social, physical, cognitive, emotional and political,” Hebblethwaite said.

She also explained that the research conducted at the centre is separated into four groups: culture, creativity and aging; community, care and connectivity; health, well-being and the lifecourse; and politics, policy and the economics of aging.

Culture, creativity and aging is focused on fine arts approaches to elderly care, including art and music therapies in long-term care facilities and research about how cultural factors influence obituaries and the remembrance of the elderly.

The Concordia engAGE research centre is focused on interdisciplinary research to improve the lives of elderly people. Photo courtesy of Shannon Hebblethwaite

Community, care and connectivity focuses on community programs and improving elder care, while the remaining two groups focus on medicine and policy.

Specific research projects include a study on how technology influences the relationship between older people and their family members, coordinating “Art Hives” (free, public art sessions open to all community members), and research on how music therapy can impact elderly people living with dementia.

Despite the centre only receiving Senate approval in June, engAGE researchers have already developed connections with local, national and international partners.

EngAGE is working with community non-profit organizations, including the advocacy group RECAA (Respecting Elders Communities Against Abuse) and Group Harmonie, a Quebec organization focused on assisting elderly people struggling with addiction and substance abuse.

Additionally, Eric Craven, the project coordinator for the Atwater Library’s Digital Literacy Program, serves as the centre’s community representative on the engAGE governing board.

EngAGE has also conducted research in partnership with a number of hospitals, including Sacré-Cœur Hospital and the Sir Mortimer B. Davis Jewish General Hospital, and has worked with residents in long-term retirement homes, including Chartwell Retirement Residences, a company with nearly 180 residences across Canada.

According to Hebblethwaite, the centre’s researchers will be focused on a number of events over the next few months. Several engAGE researchers are preparing to present some of their findings next weekend at the annual Canadian Association of Gerontology conference in Winnipeg.

Additionally, the centre will be co-sponsoring Age 3.0: Aging in the City, a public educational event on Nov. 1 that will feature panels and workshops given by the centre’s researchers. EngAGE’s governing board is also planning a symposium during the winter 2018 semester, although a topic and date have yet to be chosen.

Ultimately, Hebblethwaite’s primary focus is the research the engAGE centre facilitates. She said the centre’s main goal for November is to “explore opportunities for new and innovative collaborations among Concordia researchers and community partners.

Photos courtesy of Shannon Hebblethwaite

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