The Family Store’s initiative to save Montreal residents in need

Amid soaring food prices, the Family Store is an oasis providing groceries at or below costs for those in need in the Jewish community.

Back in December 2008, Rabbi Yossi Kessler created The Family Store located on Courtrai avenue in Côte-des-Neiges. Kessler had the intent of helping lower-class Jewish residents obtain grocery items at a subsidized cost. 

What started as a small pantry has grown into a well-oiled machine with volunteers bustling at 11 a.m. on Sunday afternoons. 

TFS brings together volunteers from different cultural backgrounds. Volunteers can help on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Wednesdays from 5 to 9 p.m.

“One must qualify to be a member here. They must make below a certain income threshold or have a certain number of kids. What we sell here is all either at cost or slightly below. We are not giving it away for free,” said Joel Rashkovsky, a volunteer at TFS for almost nine years. 

Volunteers flood the warehouse on Sundays and Wednesdays. They do various tasks such as placing labels on cardboard boxes and they grab carts to fill orders for customers.

Customers can place their orders online using the “digital pantry”  including over 1,300 stock codes for each food item offered. Once the order is placed, the grocery items are listed the same way they are presented in the store, making the packing process more efficient.

On those two days, volunteers filled up their carts with an assortment of kosher groceries like matzo farfel, beef franks, and Gefen grape juice. In the back, the noise from the rumbling fridge full of two types of kosher chicken made its presence known.

The products at The Family Store. Photo by Jacqueline Lisbona/THE CONCORDIAN

As soon as the volunteers have finished shopping for the order, they pack the items in reusable cardboard boxes and a text message is sent saying “come pick up your order.” Their system is quick, efficient, and improves every year. 

According to The Family Store’s website, last month, they had one of their biggest fundraisers ever. While the initial goal was $872,000 on Thursday Dec. 15, 2022, it was announced that they surpassed it and raised $913,172.

As volunteering becomes an even more vital part in education, many high schools such as Bialik High School have made volunteering a requirement. 

“I’m doing a mitzvah [a good deed] while having a great time,” said Hailey Murad, a grade 9 student at Bialik High School.

“When I first started, I didn’t realize how many people in our community need basics like food. This experience has taught me to be grateful for what I have and thoughtful for those in need.”

“Volunteering with cousins and friends makes it even more enjoyable,” said Charlotte Stermer, another grade 9 student at Bialik. 

“On Sundays we have a lot of high school students who come and want to get their hours done,” said Michelle Moryoussef, another volunteer at The Family Store. Many student groups from universities like McGill help as well.  

Founder of TFS Rabbi Kessler exclaimed that over the past two years with COVID and inflation, “the prices were unbelievably high and far from what people could afford. These people are working very hard to make a living, and we decided that we had to do something to help these people,” he added.

A man is seen looking at the products of The Family Store. Photo by: Jacqueline Lisbona/THE CONCORDIAN
Student Life

Hidden fashion in The Backroom

Photo by writer

The Montreal fashion scene may not be as commercial or reputable as Toronto’s, but what we lack in big name brands we gain in local talent and hidden shops known only to those who look.

The Backroom may not be an obvious hotspot attraction for summer tourists, tucked between H&M and Reuben’s Deli three floors above, but it’s just the kind of place local trendsetters search for.

LaSalle College students Rachel Sendi-Mukasa, 22, and Marie Pike, 29, dove into business together last December after interning at Just Worn, a vintage stop they bought from the original owner.

“It was something we felt like we couldn’t pass up at the time,” said Sendi-Mukasa.

Originally three, the full-time students took over the business and the clientele book and made it their own.

“We knew what was working, we knew what was being done right. We were the ones spending the most time with the clients,” said Sendi-Mukasa. “We knew what people wanted, what they were asking for. We were thinking that if we don’t go forward with this, people might just fall off.”

Their recent move to their Ste-Catherine St. location gave them the opportunity to evolve the style of the store from hipster to more of an urban street vintage fashion. The Backroom showcases a mixed collection of vintage wear and accessories, upcycled clothing and designs by local designers no more than two at time.

“In Montreal, most people don’t usually like to [wear] something if they don’t know who it is or what it is, so it takes time,” said Sendi-Mukasa. “We’re taking our time to promote them, to brand them. We’re trying to create awareness for them because it’ll take time for people to be receptive to their brand.”

Sendi-Mukasa and Pike devote time and effort seeking out young talent, researching and attending fashion events like Mews at the Royal Phoenix Bar where they discovered V-Franz.

Vfranz Bernil is a talented fellow LaSalle student; a young designer The Backroom duo hopes to continue working with and help establish his reputation.

While promoting local talent is a main priority for Sendi-Mukasa and her partner, they do want to cater to their client and offer a balanced range of styles.

“We’ll put something like V-Franz that’s a little more alternative urban street with Jolietta who’s a lot more commercial,” said Sendi-Mukasa. “Not everyone is going to like extremely different from the masses.”

At the moment, The Backroom is focusing on unisex pieces, catering to the tomboy female with the confidence to take on the androgynous look. As for men, expect a more fitted style similar to Off The Hook.

Sendi-Mukasa and Pike have been business partners since December 2011 and have managed to build a successful working relationship in such a short amount of time. While Pike is the creative mind behind their blog and takes on the role as the optimist, Sendi-Mukasa uses her marketing education to her advantage and is responsible for their finances and inventory.

“Honestly I’m really impressed with the awareness that we’ve created about the store and the amount of clientele that we’ve managed to get on board in a short amount of time is really hard for a small business,” said Sendi-Mukasa. “There are a lot of cliques, so you have a lot of people who stick to their genres and if you can’t get into that genres, then you won’t get your clientele.”

The Backroom duo is welcoming the new season with their Spring Fling event on April 5.


The Backroom is located on 1118 Ste-Catherine W. St. suite 305.



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