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“If I don’t have it, I’ll take more”: two Montreal hospitals offer free food to the most vulnerable

Two Montreal hospitals are now helping the most vulnerable by offering them free meals, a way to combat food insecurity and reduce waste.

For most Quebecers, hospitals are synonymous with surgeries or medical examinations, but for Claude Sauvé, it’s the place where he goes for free breakfast every morning.

“If I didn’t have that, I would tear even more,” the 61-year-old man said. On welfare and with substance abuse problems, he would often run out of money at the end of the month and not eat for days.

“You are crazy, staying at home all day looking at the four walls and starving (…). It changed everything in my life,” he breathed. Mr. Sauvé now starts his days with two bagels, yogurt and fresh fruit at Verdun Hospital, which gives him the strength to go and volunteer at different organizations.

Many benefits

The Solidarity Hospital project comes from Annie Marquez, food services coordinator at CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal. It is funded by the McConnell and Santé Urbaine foundations.

He has created various guidelines to promote sustainable food and reduce waste, but these guidelines are useless if people do not have enough food, he argues. “And we know we have excesses,” added MME Marquez.

Gen - Free Meals Verdun Hospital

In addition, feeding the most vulnerable citizens helps reduce hospitalizations. Users will come to their appointments more often and this will also reduce interventions by security agents on site, he said.

“The hospital becomes a place of safety that they know (…), their neighborhood restaurant,” he gives as an example.

Stakeholders, such as social workers, nurses or occupational therapists, provide meal cards, with a predetermined amount, like a gift card, which users use as they wish. One family may receive $100, but others have less to ensure they return to their appointment and renew their card.

Gen - Free Meals Verdun Hospital

MARTIN ALARIE / LE JOURNAL DE MONTR’AL

In addition to hot meals, leftovers from the cafeteria are frozen and sold as take-out meals. Low-income parents can grab dinner after work, or a diabetic patient can eat a meal designed for their needs.

Not much to worry about

“I love the chicken here and the salad bar,” Chantal Ricard said. The 47-year-old took care of his father throughout his cancer remission. With the recent increase in rent, he no longer has enough to eat.

Gen - Free Meals Verdun Hospital

Without free food at Verdun Hospital, Chantal Ricard would not be able to eat her fill every week. MARTIN ALARIE / LE JOURNAL DE MONTR’AL

His visits to the hospital cafeteria several days a week even reduced his anxiety, creating a small circle of acquaintances for him. “It calms me down, I talk to people more,” he enthuses.

New mother, Marcelle Vargas lives on a meager salary. By going to the hospital to get food and taking it to the park, he and his partner enjoy a rare outing that they couldn’t afford.

Proud of the initiative, Annie Marquez hopes that other hospitals will follow suit. “In this project, we see how much food insecurity exists,” he complained, but hospital workers now have a concrete handle to help their patients.

Gen - Free Meals Verdun Hospital

MARTIN ALARIE / LE JOURNAL DE MONTR’AL

Solidarity Hospital in numbers

Since 1
is the

May 2023 at Verdun Hospital:

The 24 speakers made 99 requests for 75 different users.

(160 people including families)

This represents a value of $18,450.

*The initiative started in May 2023, in Verdun.

Since 1
is the

May 2023 at Notre-Dame Hospital:

77 different stakeholders made 528 requests for 268 different users.

(544 people reached including families)

This represents a value of $66,800.

*Since the project was implemented in June 2020, this represents the equivalent of approximately $170,000 donated in the form of meals.

The speakers are social workers, doctors, nurses, nutritionists, occupational therapists, psychoeducators, psychiatrists and specialized teachers.

Nation World News Desk
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