Montreal community groups want to give back during the holidays, but the pandemic is making things difficult

·2 min read

Community groups that are accustomed to hosting dozens, if not hundreds of people during the holidays are finding themselves forced to make major changes, or scrap their plans altogether.

Take the NDG Community Christmas Dinner, for example.

For close to 20 years, people in the neighbourhood have flocked to St. Ignatius of Loyola's church basement for a warm meal and good vibes surrounded by several volunteers.

"It's ridiculously huge," said co-organizer Paul Shubin. "For the past three or four years, we've served over 1,000 meals, we have several hundreds of volunteers, and last year, we had 63 turkeys."

Restrictions for holiday events are just the latest obstacles for community groups during this pandemic, with many food banks struggling to keep up with a growing demand for services.

The Montreal region remains a COVID-19 red zone, according to the province's colour-coded system.

That means community groups are allowed to operate, but indoor gatherings such as the one Shubin hosts are prohibited. It's not clear when the restrictions will be lifted and to what extent.

Shubin says he had no choice but to cancel the annual tradition.

"We looked at it 16 ways from Sunday, and there was no practical way that we could do it," he said. "Everybody is completely disappointed by it, and we didn't come by this decision easily — believe me."

CBC
CBC

With a dining room that is usually packed, and about 15 volunteers needed to work in the kitchen, physical distancing measures would have been impossible to implement, Shubin said.

Some community groups, though, have some room to manoeuvre in order to keep their traditions going this year.

Even if red zone restrictions remain in place during the holidays, On Rock Community Services in the West Island says it can play by the rules and still go ahead with its annual food and toy drives on Dec. 19.

There will be fewer volunteers inside their warehouse and drivers will be asked to stay in their vehicles when picking up deliveries.

"We don't want to put people at risk," said Kim Reid, On Rock's president.

"If people within the food bank start getting COVID, we're gonna have to shut down at least for a couple of weeks, and that just puts even more burden on our families that we're taking care of."