Volunteers help ease burden on Montreal's working poor

About 200 volunteers packed emergency food bags at the Moisson Montreal food bank on Saturday to help the city’s increasing number of working poor this holiday season.

'The generosity of all these volunteers, it's tremendous,' says Mayor Denis Coderre

Volunteers filled up the Moisson Montreal warehouse Saturday to assemble emergency food bags to help people through the holidays. (Elysha Enos/CBC)

About 200 volunteers packed emergency food bags at the Moisson Montreal food bank on Saturday to help the city's increasing number of working poor this holiday season.

Volunteers packed the emergency bags at around 20 tables while others whisked them away into storage containers. They will be picked up and distributed over the holidays.

"We're the biggest food bank in Canada, which is very sad," Richard Daneau, the executive director of Moisson Montreal, told CBC News.

"It shows how acute the hunger problem is in Montreal."

Thirty years ago, it was the homeless and people on social assistance who needed help from the food bank, Daneau said.

Now, even people with jobs sometimes have trouble affording food.

Executive director of Moisson Montreal, Richard Daneau oversees the Christmas Harvest event. (Elysha Enos/CBC)

In Montreal, the need for assistance getting food on the table continues to rise.

According to statistics compiled by Moisson Montreal and its affiliates, about 950,000 requests for food aid are made each month in the Greater Montreal area.

What does food insecurity look like?

A Hunger Count survey, which was commissioned by Moisson Montreal, showed that a growing number of food assistance requests from residents around the island of Montreal were made by students and people with jobs.

Daneau added that more people are having to make a choice between paying rent and buying groceries.

Mayor Coderre helped out at Saturday's event along with federal Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion.

Coderre said that while he appreciates the work being done by Moisson Montreal, he is working to see prevention programs become robust enough to stop people from needing food banks.

"It's an ongoing fight that we are looking to win," Coderre said.

Volunteers worked as if they were on an assembly line while a band performed for them during the annual event. (Elysha Enos/CBC)

Need for volunteers

At the Saturday morning emergency bag assembly line, volunteers danced to a live band and were served breakfast.

A dozen trollies whizzed continually from the cargo area of the warehouse to the music-filled assembly floor.

"The generosity of all these volunteers, it's tremendous," Coderre said.

"It's part of our energy, to show how generous all Montrealers are."

First-time volunteer David Perry brought his family to help out at the event. He said he wanted them to grow up knowing the importance of giving back.

"Pay it forward. Because you never know, one day you might be on the receiving end," Perry said.

Despite the festive – and crowded – warehouse buzzing with music and hundreds of Good Samaritans, the scene at Moisson Montreal is quite different in January.

Daneau says it's cold and dreary in the first months on the year and that discourages people from coming out.

He hopes more Montrealers will volunteer their time in 2017 because the need for food assistance just keeps growing.