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It takes lots of love to share the warmth

December, 2009

The delectable scent of freshly baked muffins fills the air. Nearby, people browse through racks of clothing. The sounds of lively chatter and music are audible. But this isn’t a typical day at a shopping mall – it’s a Thursday afternoon at Share the Warmth, the multi-faceted organization that’s been helping Montrealers in need for 20 years.

Share the Warmth was founded by Judy Stevens and her sister-in-law Linda Hodes in 1989 after the two women received a visit at their old business place from a woman who told them she was going out onto the streets to help feed the homeless. “My sister-in-law said, ‘You know what, we’ll get some warm clothes and we’ll meet you on the street,’” Stevens recalls.

Viveka Anban, with keyboard teacher Suzanne Larose Photos: Scott Philip

After Linda made a phone call to The Gazette, their actions on the streets were given a full-page write-up the following day. “I went into work the next day and the phones were ringing like crazy,” Stevens said. “People were calling saying they wanted to volunteer. … so many people wanted to help.”

Stevens and Hodes started out collecting clothes. Then, after a house in Pointe St. Charles was donated, the two started a second-hand shop that sold clothes and provided free clothing to those who could not afford any. At the time, they were still using their cars to drive around and distribute food and clothing to those in need, but they later acquired a truck so they could increase their efforts.

It wasn’t long before Share the Warmth became incorporated. “I always think that we were meant to do it,” said Stevens of founding the organization. “It sort of came from the back door. Nothing is static. Everything evolves and changes in life and so did Share the Warmth.”

The organization kept growing. It moved from the smaller house to its current location – a large church in Pointe St. Charles – in 2005. The church has room for all of its functions: second-hand clothing shop, food bank, youth group and after-school centre.

Fiona Crossling with founder, Judy Stevens

A youth group for inner-city children meets 6:30 to 8 pm twice a week. “The turnout is great,” Stevens said. The group lets children socialize and participate in such activities as arts and crafts. “Last time we had almost 40 kids. They really need it.”

Share the Warmth also hosts community events — spaghetti suppers, dances, and after-school tutoring. The organization has music rooms on the second floor, where musicians give children keyboard and guitar lessons. “It’s fantastic. They’d otherwise never get an opportunity to do this,” Stevens said.

Daniel Jannack, 17, has been taking weekly guitar lessons from Philippe Blanchette, a St. Laurent College music student since October. “I learn how to play and soon I might become a great musician,” Jannack says. “I listen to heavy metal a lot.”

In another room, Viveka Anban, 11. is having her keyboard lesson with Suzanne Larose. They are preparing for a recital, Stevens explains.

Twice a week, food is distributed to the unemployed and those on government assistance. The always-busy kitchen staff works daily to prepare snacks for hungry school children.

“We prepare sandwiches and muffins for schools all across the island,” Stevens said. After preparing the snacks, volunteers at the organization pack them up and deliver them to daycares, elementary and high schools. Susan Mingo is head of the kitchen staff. “We make 500 to 700 muffins a day for kids in schools,” she says proudly, “and 1,000 tuna, egg salad and cheese sandwiches. ” In the fall, Share the Warmth runs a back-to-school program that provides school supplies to students in need. The organization also provides scholarships to about 25 gifted students from low-income families.

Susan Mingo rules in the kitchen

New ventures are in the works. “Our latest program involves working with the students in the scholarship program, the music program, the youth group, and offering them tutoring and mentoring,” Stevens said. “If we can help them in feeling that they want to learn more and they want to be involved in life, they can create a positive destiny for themselves.”

Share the Warmth is able to do all this thanks to the generosity of over 200 benefactors. “We get donations from corporate foundations and individuals. We’re not funded much by the government,” said Fiona Crossling, the associate director of the organization.

To keep everything running smoothly, Share the Warmth needs more than just financial aid. Even though the organization has six full-time staff members, they still need lots of willing volunteers to keep their many programs going. The kitchen is often filled with volunteers, many of them seniors, preparing snacks for the School Food Program.

Seniors are just part of Share the Warmth’s varied list of volunteers. “Instead of staying home, students on suspension can come here and work for the day,” Stevens said. “We also have volunteers who are young offenders.” University and high school students often visit and help out with the day-to-day work.

Volunteers also help with the more menial chores. “We have partners for a day, where people from a company or school come help out with cleaning or renovating,” Crossling said. Recently, the youth group meeting room and music room were given facelifts.

Philippe Blanchette teaches guitar to Daniel Jannack

Everyone is welcome to volunteer in this lively atmosphere. Application forms let people choose whatever interests them: deliveries, working in the kitchen or food bank. “Things just wouldn’t work without volunteers,” Crossling said.

Share the Warmth accepts financial contributions as well as donations of food items, school supplies and gently-used clothing. Boxes filled with non-perishable food items will be delivered to families over the holidays this winter. The organization also sells homemade jams and a teddy bear named Fortune that make great gifts.

Because volunteering and donations are what Share the Warmth depends on to “awaken hopes and dreams by overcoming poverty,” every bit of help counts.



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