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Share the Warmth centre ideal for bargain-hunting, learning and yakking

Janie de Jeu

December, 2010

Cold and windy is one way to describe the corner of Wellington and Fortune on a November afternoon, where, in 2004, an old church was purchased to accommodate Share the Warmth.

When you’re feeding breakfast staples to children in 26 Montreal schools, you need ample space to cater to the masses.

This is the busiest time of year for Share the Warmth who are working on their Christmas box campaign. “We solicit companies, banks, schools, apartment buildings: anybody who will listen to us,” says executive director Judy Stevens. “Hopefully the amount of food that we collect this year will last us through April.”

The kitchen at Share the Warmth is alive with volunteers making the day’s menu: egg salad sandwiches.

A second-hand store in the building sells gently used and donated items to generate a significant portion of the organization’s revenue. It has become a community hub in Pointe St-Charles.

“It’s really like a drop-in centre,” Stevens says. “People come here to yak and find out what’s going on. They can also outfit their whole family for very little money and feel like they did well.”

Behind the scenes lies the entire framework of the organization, including the kitchen, which is alive with volunteers making the menu of the day: egg salad sandwiches. The stainless steel counters host enormous bowls of delicious-looking spread and rows of loaves of bread.

The food from this kitchen serves full breakfasts for two of the least affluent schools in Montreal. Westmount Park Elementary and St. Monica Elementary in NDG have a high percentage of students affected by poverty.

Judy Stevens (in pink), with Share the Warmth staff and volunteers Photo: Janie de Je

“Every morning the food from our kitchen is delivered by truck to schools,” Stevens says. “We serve breakfast and lunch ‘fill in foods.’ If a child forgets food or doesn’t bring enough food, they’ll get sandwiches and fruit or muffins, bagels and cheese. “Children with full stomachs are not as aggressive and don’t get sleepy during the day,” Stevens says. “A child who is high on sugar is probably not getting food that is nourishing like fruits and vegetables, which help the body and mind to function and learn.” As executive director, Stevens oversees the management of the grassroots organization, programs, budgets and all communication with the board of directors. “The buck stops here: If something doesn’t work, I have to try to see how to make it work,” she says. “The combination of different people running this place gives it a great pulse. The inside operations are as important to what we’re providing to those who come here or to whom we deliver our programs.”

Share the Warmth has eight permanent staff members with varied backgrounds. Some had been on social assistance, then came for a work program. They were subsequently hired.

“We get the perspective of people who had actually used our programs and benefited from their experiences. With so many coming together, it’s a great blend. The people who work here don’t look at the clock. They have a lot of spirit — and a lot of soul goes into the work being done here.”

The organization runs a school-supply program that provided materials for approximately 53 schools in the Montreal area this year.

“We send out requisition forms for principals and teachers to fill out with supplies they will be needing most for the coming year. We gather well over 100,000 items. Ninety per cent is donated and 10 per cent we purchase,” she says.

“This year we had a company sell us school bags for $2.50 each. Normally they would go for about $14.” Besides providing the bare necessities for students in need, tutoring in many subject areas is offered for students who need extra help or want something outside the classroom.

There are 42 students in the music program where volunteers teach guitar and keyboard. Almost 100 children registered for the youth group program, and 34 students enrolled in the scholarship program, which offers financially-challenged students $500 for every year they attend high school.

“We manage the money here and we discuss the students’ needs with their parents. The money could go toward a new pair of glasses, or a musical instrument like a guitar. Education is a wide range of needs.”

To donate to Share the Warmth: 514-933-5599.

Welcome to our December/January issue, which explores gift-giving. There are gifts we intend for family and friends and, perhaps more importantly, the gifts we offer people we will probably never meet through such charities as Share the Warmth, Sun Youth and Generations Foundation. A “thank you,” can improve a person’s day or the mood of an entire office, as this letter buoyed the hardworking staff here at The Senior Times.

Living Life to the Fullest.

The kitchen at Share the Warmth is alive with volunteers making the day’s menu: egg salad sandwiches. Photos: Janie de Jeu

With that heading in the November issue of The Senior Times and the splendid picture of Denise Charté smiling at all of your fortunate readers, we certainly can smile back. I know I did. What wonderful times of our lives, our “senior times.” I digest my day with thought and humour like I never did before. When I pick up The Senior Times, I know I shall find many articles that raise the spirit. Many of us are very busy, but we seem to find those important moments to raise the spirit of all whom we touch.

It is a magic time of our lives and The Senior Times reads like a travel log of feasts. I learned that when we make up our minds to change our lives and live healthier and happier, we can.

I learned about food, travel, exercise, politics, grandmothers in brightly printed skirts who live in Malawi. I was able to close my eyes and picture myself sitting next to a waterfall at a yoga retreat in France.

I have mentioned a few of the wonderful ways I was welcomed into the world of The Senior Times. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to explore this paper. Thank you! — Judy Stevens, executive director, Share the Warmth



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