Interview with Welfare Avenue: A better quality of life for all of Montreal

Everyone deserves the right to be treated equally regardless of their life events. With the help of our community, that is what Welfare Avenue will continue to establish.

Over the course of the pandemic, the homeless population in Montreal has gone unfed and unsheltered. Our guest, Welfare Avenue, discusses how they bring happiness and health to Montreal's homeless population while coming together as a community. At the start of the pandemic, Welfare Avenue began the #helptheunseenofcovid19 movement to provide essential resources to those in need.


As Embellir’s mission is to feed people, we would like our readers to see how this local organization is serving the community by bringing food to those who need it most during a difficult time. On that note, we are excited to share with you how Welfare Avenue came to be, what they do, and how to get involved.

 

First tell us a little bit about Welfare Avenue: How did it come about, what is the goal and motivation behind it all? What is Welfare Avenue’s mission? How do you aim to achieve it?

"Before being an organization Welfare Avenue was a movement/hashtag: #helptheunseenofcovid19. The idea of the hashtag came about at the beginning of the pandemic in April of 2020 when founder Steel MacDonald and some friends were downtown as usual. What made the experience downtown different from the others was that the streets of downtown Montreal were a literal ghost town leaving nothing but the stories of our unhoused neighbors in the community. After talking to some of these individuals and listening to their stories Steel instantly knew that he wanted to help during such an unfortunate time. To be honest, no one knew that Welfare Avenue would grow to the extent that it did but with the help of a team the #helptheunseenofcovid19 was able to become an organization that provides essential resources to those in the community that are in need during this time. Welfare Avenue’s mission is : A better quality of life to all of Montreal. Welfare Avenue aims to contribute to a better quality of life for individuals of the community no matter what that may look like. Some might need to talk to someone for 15 minutes to feel satisfied and that’s what we strive to accomplish. Although we know that there is so much that we can do as a start-up, Welfare Avenue aims long-term to be able to do even more such as potentially help those in the community find jobs and apartments."


What has your organization accomplished to date? Greatest accomplishment?


"Considering that we are constantly growing in different ways we would say there are different aspects where we have gained an accomplishment. One of the bigger accomplishments would be the number of different collaboration opportunities that we have received since we officially started the organization in October. Welfare Avenue has collaborated with other organizations that are eager to help the community as well and the more we grow the more collaborations and connections we establish. These collaborations have ranged from food to clothing organizations such as Sportira, Eyes on Earth, Vanier MedLife, Vanier College Student Association, VMUN, McGill GFS Club, HoodSaints, and Embellir, allowing us to provide an abundance of resources to our community. Together as a community, we can accomplish so much more than alone, and we embrace our collaborations and the diversity that it brings to the community making it one of our biggest accomplishments.

Beyond collaborations, we believe that our biggest accomplishment would be the aspect of having built a supportive community between the people we help and the students helping them. This supportive community helps students transfer their social media usage on the weekends into something more meaningful to our community. In doing so, they also benefit mentally as they get to socialize and connect with people which is something many of the youth missed during the strict Quebec restrictions. The same thing goes for the less fortunate we serve. A community is not the easiest thing to build although up to date we’ve had over 200 volunteers from around the city and its boroughs come through to help the second half of our community in downtown Montreal. It’s a heartwarming thing to witness!"


Who are the people benefiting from your initiative and who are the people taking the initiative?


"As a community-involved organization, many individuals within the Montreal community can benefit from the initiative that our organization takes. Although, the individuals that are the most appreciative of our contribution and benefit from it immensely are our unhoused neighbours in the community. This is a result of the lack of resources that they receive from the government making them appreciative of what we can provide to the community whether it be home-cooked food, clothing, hygiene products, or simply a laugh or conversation.



Considering that we are a student-run organization, college and university students of Montreal contribute the most initiative as they are more hands-on in the field. Additionally, the students that take the most initiative are those on our team as time and dedication are put into the organization. Each one of us contributes in our own way and without the other everything wouldn’t fall into place. It takes a village to feed a village therefore many other individuals contribute to the initiative that is taken such as parents and grandparents, especially when it comes to cooking meals."


What difficulties is your project facing? Government restrictions? Overall, is the government helping or hindering you in your activities?

"Presently, our project is facing some storage problems as we currently store all of our equipment and donations in our founder’s backyard. This is also where the volunteering trips begin and end which can be weird from the point of view of a first-time volunteer. Other than that, we aren’t really restricted at all from anyone since we’re only providing for the community which actually gives us liberty in most of our operations. For example, we’ll usually have massive lineups of 80 to 200 people waiting to eat which can be concerning during a pandemic although the police pass by without saying a word.


Overall, I wouldn’t say the government is putting much effort into helping our unhoused neighbours during this pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the homeless population has more than doubled in Montreal and all the government is really doing is cramming them into shelters, resulting in some shelters having up to 500 people sleeping on army beds. They’re required to line up outside from 4 pm to 6 pm until they are checked to be let in. The worst part was during the winter as they’d be forced to leave the building at 5 or 6 am in the morning and left outside the whole day with no place to go for warmth and even food at times. In a worse-case scenario, we’ve even seen homeless people pass away due to the harsh weather conditions because of limited space in a shelter and because of a curfew being put in place. Without us and many other social community projects around the city, the homeless would be in an even worse place so we strongly believe the government can step in and either help our projects do more or allocate more resources for these less fortunate people."


What are the different ways to get involved and help out?


"There are multiple ways to get involved with Welfare Avenue. Due to the fact that we are in the pandemic, we like to accommodate everyone by providing different ways they can get involved and help out, including ways that don’t leave you at risk for being exposed. The following are ways that the readers can get involved if they wish to participate in our organization:

Get involved physically:

  • Volunteer as a passenger (Serves the food)

  • Volunteer as a driver (Drives around with the passengers to pick up the food)

  • Volunteer as a cook (Cooks volunteer from the comfort of their home)

Provide donations:

  • Monetary Donations

  • Non-perishable Items

  • Clothing and Blankets

  • Hygiene Products

Free ways of supporting and helping:

  • Liking and sharing our content

  • Commenting on our posts/videos

  • Providing feedback where you think is needed

  • Have a business? Restaurant? Can we collaborate and find ways to help reduce waste and provide for those in need?"

How can readers find/contact you? (for example to provide home-cooked meals, donate clothing)


"Welfare Avenue is easily accessible through our website: www.welfareavenue.com and our social media (our social media link). Readers can access our get involved page where they would be presented with three options: to volunteer their time, make a monetary donation or to physical donation with food or clothing. If they choose to volunteer their time or provide donations the process would look like the following:

  • Choose the position (for volunteering)

  • Select a date and time

  • Fill out a few questions

  • Book it!

Once the session is booked, they will receive a confirmation email with instructions/addresses and a follow up email with the itinerary for that weekend will be sent out as well. It is as easy as that!"


What take-home message do you want to leave to our readers?


"Although there are many messages that are emphasized in Welfare Avenue’s story, the one that we would want to leave with the readers would be that everyone deserves the right to be treated equally regardless of their life events. With the help of our community, that is what Welfare Avenue will continue to establish. With that being said, if you ever have some spare time, check us out and join your community today to make a difference!"


 

A big thank you to Welfare Avenue for being apart of this interview and inspiring the Embellir team and its readers. Below is a video of Welfare Avenue and its volunteers in action.


We are glad to support Welfare Avenue and we encourage you to get involved!


KF & JL

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