In a year that has been difficult for so many, the pandemic has been particularly tough for Montreal’s homeless shelters and the people they support. When the city’s lockdown measures began in March, N.D.G. resident Kirstie Jagoe heard that shelters were in need of premade meals. With a great desire to help others and looking for a positive experience for her kids, she started Bread and Beyond — to provide sandwiches (and other needed items) along with messages of hope to those facing hard times.
After reaching out to some friends for help, she and her family set about making sandwiches. In these early days, the group delivered approximately 250 sandwiches per week.
Jagoe took a break in the summer but had a lingering feeling that there was something more she could do for these shelters. “I was thinking that maybe I need to set something up that is more systematic and permanent,” she said.
At the end of August, she called several shelters to assess the need and was overwhelmed by the response. The staff at the shelters said that demand was great and would only grow come winter. So Jagoe decided to take the plunge, incorporate Bread and Beyond as a not-for-profit, and open it up to as many volunteers as possible. “It has gone way better than I ever thought it would,” she said.
Support from the community
Bread and Beyond now has more than 100 volunteers who make between 1,500-2,000 sandwiches per week. When schools are able to help out, they can deliver up to 3,000. Seven local shelters including Chez Doris, The Open Door, and Old Brewery Mission benefit from the food, which is delivered every Monday and Friday.
Volunteers of all ages shop, assemble, decorate, and deliver. “It’s across the board – we have kids as young as 2 all the way up to retirees,” she said. “And then we also have schools involved for their community service programs.”
All volunteers must adhere to strict sanitary measures and respect health regulations. “Everybody makes the sandwiches at home,” Jagoe said. “The volunteers have to sign a kitchen safety and hygiene form before they start and send it to us.”
Currently, there are two drop-off locations — in N.D.G. and T.M.R. — where volunteers bring the prepared sandwiches, but Jagoe said she would love to try and spread that out to The Plateau and different areas of Montreal. “We’d love to get a little help now around the city.”
Sandwich making on a large scale
While some food items are donated and provided to volunteers, many people buy the ingredients themselves. “We try and get donated ingredients and share that out among our sandwich makers, but most people actually buy the grocery items themselves, which is pretty incredible,” Jagoe said.
Other people don’t have time to make the sandwiches but will buy groceries – there is a drop-off box for items at Hogg Hardware in Westmount.
How to help
There are various ways that individuals and families can contribute to Bread and Beyond.
Making sandwiches: Email firstname.lastname@example.org and receive details about the program. Once you’ve read through and are happy to move forward, you’ll receive the link to the sign-up platform, plus your kitchen hygiene form. “When you go into the platform, it’s like a calendar. You click on a day and it tells you what sandwiches are needed. You can sign up for anything from 10 sandwiches up to 50. If you have young kids, 50 can be a lot of sandwiches to make! So it’s however many you want to do,” Jagoe said.
“Volunteers let me know when they are going to make the sandwiches, and I try and get the paper bags and labels to them for their first time,” she said. “Then they drop off the prepared sandwiches between 7:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. or the night before. If they want to make another batch, they can pick up more bags and labels.”
Volunteer drivers also sign up on the platform and pick up labelled boxes with instructions to leave the food at the shelter’s door. No one goes inside so it’s COVID safe.
Get the kids involved
Children can also help by decorating the paper sandwich bags. “Over the holidays, there were a lot of Christmas dinosaurs and lovely drawings on the bags,” Jagoe said. “And we work with local schools so over the holidays we asked them to give us drawings, which we then photocopied on stickers and each bag had holiday messages. At the moment, we’re putting COVID-related support messages on the bags to let the shelter clients know that we are thinking of them. So there’s that whole art side that the kids can get involved with as well.”
If you can’t make sandwiches, you can help by supplying bread and fillings, making a monetary donation by e-transfer, or by participating in one of the monthly campaigns by collecting essential items such as socks, backpacks, or toiletries.
A rewarding experience
Helping people in your community not only benefits the charities themselves, but it can be deeply rewarding for families and children. “I know I’ve learned so much,” Jagoe says. “The crisis that was under my nose has been startling and this has really woken me up.”
Bread and Beyond has long-term, post-COVID goals with hopes of increasing awareness, involving more children through at-school programs, and opening a location where groups of people can prepare sandwiches.