Lachute food bank fire a major loss for the community

The destruction of a Lachute food bank by fire is a major loss for a community struck hard in recent years by job losses, say residents and volunteers.

Food bank, which helped hundreds of families a month, lost all food and school-supply donations

Lys Chisholm and Marcus Nerenberg live next to the Centre d'entraide d'Argenteuil. She said the food bank helped countless members of the community who had fallen on hard times after some major employers closed down. (CBC)
Marcus Nerenberg and wife Lys Chisholm woke to a fire inside the old presbytery around 4 a.m. on Saturday. (Lys Chisholm)
The destruction of a Lachute food bank by fire is a major loss for a community recently struck hard by job losses, say residents and food bank volunteers. 

The fire broke out in the back of the St-Julien presbytery around 4 a.m. ET on Saturday.

Neighbour Lys Chisholm said her husband, Marcus Nerenberg, woke up before dawn to tend to their 18-month-old granddaughter when he saw a bright light out the window.

He saw the presbytery's porch and the delivery truck in the driveway in flames. 

It took firefighters about an hour to put out the fire, but by then most of the building had been destroyed. 

"It was tough. It was an old building, so we had multiple ceilings and the fire went through the structure so we had to dismantle the structure from the inside to get the fire extinguished," said Alain St-Jacques, assistant director of the Lachute fire department.

"Probably the building will have to be destroyed," he continued.

Food bank helped 300 families a week

Over the course of the morning, neighbours and people who worked at the Centre d'entraide d'Argenteuil food bank gathered in front of the presbytery in tears.

Alain St-Jacques, assistant director of the Lachute fire department, said it was likely that the building would have to be torn down following the fire. (CBC)

A volunteer said the food bank helped about 300 families a week. Its stockpiles of food and school supplies were consumed by the fire.

Chisholm said the food bank responded to a growing need after several major employers in the area shut down. She said it was a major service to Lachute's residents and helped a lot of senior citizens living at or below the poverty line.

"There's community gardens, there's I think a lot of love and work that's gone into this. A lot of volunteers. It helps people who've lost jobs and are looking to make themselves feel worthy again," Chisholm said. "It's very sad."

Gilles Bellefeuille used to volunteer at the food bank. He said that Lachute residents were lucky to have the Centre d'entraide d'Argenteuil because so many of them lived below the poverty line, and its loss will have a huge impact on the community.

The Centre d'entraide d'Argenteuil was run out of the early twentieth-century presbytery that had been next to St-Julien Church, which was torn down in 2007 after being abandoned for 11 years.

St-Jacques of the fire department said the Sûreté du Québec is investigating to identify the source of the fire.