How an affordable lunch brings West Islanders together
Projet Communautaire de Pierrefonds has been cooking up community meals for over 15 years
It's a Friday afternoon and Joan Ellis, a West Island retiree, has arrived for lunch with a group of friends at the Roxboro United Church in Pierrefonds.
"Is there any table for eight?" she asks as they wander through the hall, filled with banquet tables decorated with festive red table cloths and small Christmas trees.
She's a regular at this event — a monthly community meal, cooked up by Projet Communautaire de Pierrefonds. The West Island charity has been serving up affordable meals for more than 15 years.
"It's nice to get together with all our friends and the price [is] very generous," Ellis said.
The meal costs $3 and the organizers believe the price coaxes people out of their homes, especially seniors and newcomers who may be isolated.
The charity receives some of its funding from West Island Community Shares. CBC is supporting the charity for its annual "Light Up Our Community" holiday fundraiser, which runs until Dec. 10.
CBC Montreal spoke to Chad Polito, the executive director of Projet Communautaire De Pierrefonds, about what goes into their monthly meal.
What was on the menu today?
Today we served turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans [and] there was a mac and cheese vegetarian dish we prepared. We had a green spring mix salad — no romaine lettuce, of course.
What's the value of bringing people together for a meal?
I think there are a lot of people in the community that live in isolation and don't necessarily interact with people who are maybe different from them, based on their nationality, religion or age.
A community meal brings people from all different segments of the population together in an atmosphere that's festive, non-threatening and positive.
Are there a lot of people in the West Island living in isolation?
A lot of newcomers do live in isolation. A lot of the women, especially, stay at home, they don't go out, they don't know anyone and it's an opportunity for them to get to meet other people, to make new friends and to integrate into a new culture.
What does it take to cook a meal for 70 people?
It takes a lot of planning and dividing up tasks between the team. You have to select the menu, have that portioned and sized and go shopping accordingly.
Some of the challenges are knowing exactly how many people will come. We do a lot of advertising around the community so you never who is going to get tickets in advance or just show up at the door.
Another challenge would be just making sure everything is timed to finish [cooking] at the same time, with the number of stoves that we have available.
Why do you hold these meals at the end of the month?
The end of the month is a hard time for families to make ends meet.
They could be running out of money for their monthly budget, and so providing a low-cost meal can go a long way.
When you look at people gathering for a meal together, what do you think?
It's a beautiful thing to see people eating together, breaking bread together and enjoying a time of fellowship together.
Over the next few weeks CBC Montreal is holding several events, including its annual Sing-In, to raise money for West Island Community Shares. The goal for this year is $1.3 million. Find out more here.