Montreal mother is on a mission to support her community

Julie-Tania Richard's Montréal-Nord home is packed with storage bins. There are bins on the shelves of the front entrance. Her basement is brimming with more storage bins, racks and refrigerators, confining her bed to a small corner at the very back of the room.

Richard, her boyfriend and her four kids live here, but this isn't your typical cluttered home — it acts as a refuge for families in the neighborhood. 

"We only keep things that are clean and presentable," Richard explained as she sorted through a bin of Halloween costume donations, carrying her four-year-old daughter on her hip. 

"Even if people are in precarious situations, they have the right to have things that are clean and decent."

After overcoming financial obstacles while raising four kids in Montréal-Nord, Richard grew frustrated seeing so many families in her neighbourhood struggling in the same way she had. 

So she decided to do something to change that, and started the grassroots organization Mon réseau about five years ago. She runs it out of her small Montréal-Nord home.

"I wanted to get back to basics. And the base of everything is sharing. If we share, then people won't be missing anything," said Richard.

People are referred to Mon réseau through the CLSC and other local organizations when they are in dire need of clothing, furniture or other household items. Once they are put in touch with Richard, they have the option of either going to her home and picking out the items there or having the items delivered to them.

Franca Mignacca/CBC

Richard and a team of volunteers spend their days sorting through donations, most of which come through social media call-outs. They also offer moral support to people in the neighbourhood who have no family to help them through regular phone calls and visits.

Though the majority of people she has helped have been families, the organization also helps seniors and those living alone.

In emergency situations, such as house fires, Richard welcomes people into her home at all hours of the night, providing them with food and a place to stay calm.

"In the last week, I've helped about 20 people," she said.

'I'm part of a family'

Anne was eight months pregnant with twins and raising her six-year-old daughter, when she and her partner moved into a bare bones apartment. The boxes had yet to be unpacked when her partner of 10 years suddenly abandoned the family, she said.

Anne is not her real name — CBC News has agreed to withhold her identity, as she is afraid identification will harm her future chances of employment.

A few weeks later, she gave birth to the babies, who were premature. Suddenly finding herself alone in an apartment with three children and almost no furniture, she began to feel severely depressed.

Anne had no stroller for the babies and had to carry them in her arms when dropping her daughter off at school. She asked for help from another local organization, Horizon Jeunesse, and they put her in touch with Richard.

"It completely changed my life," she said.

"I feel like I'm part of a family. I feel completely safe with them."

Richard was able to get a stroller for Anne, along with couches to sit on, dishes and clothes for her daughter.

Richard and other volunteers also call her regularly to offer moral support, visit and help her watch her children when the need arises.

"With time, I was in a better mood," she said.

"I started to do activities with my daughter, went for walks with my twins. It really changed the entire course of my life."

She says Richard has inspired her to return the favour, and hopes to someday have the means to help someone in the same way Richard has helped her.

Hoping to expand

Richard hopes to move her organization to a separate, larger building where she will be able to collect more donations someday. In the meantime, she is always on the lookout for more volunteers and donations.

She is also looking for people with vehicles who would be willing to help her transport larger donations to people in need.

Richard has her hands full — sometimes, literally — raising her kids, volunteering for other organizations and working a full-time job in addition to running Mon réseau.

But seeing the joy that her organization brings to others is payment enough for all her hard work.

"It's the feeling of a mission accomplished."