Immediately after its creation in 2007, Amma Québec in Canada sought to find a way to feed the homeless in the streets of Montreal. It was clear to the organizers that the issue was urgent, with the city having more than 3,000 people in need. Montreal is Canada’s second largest city with a population of 3.5 million people and also has a long, cold winter of snow and ice.
“We asked Amma whether we could proceed and she said definitely,” remembers Hitesh, one of Amma Québec’s coordinators. “We contacted Welcome Hall Mission and they responded with great enthusiasm for us to join their project. They have been at work in Montreal since 1892.”
Once a month, volunteers with Amma Québec arrive at the downtown center to take their turn cooking and serving hot meals to about 200 people. As of today, they have shared more than 14,000 meals.Through such participation by volunteer organizations, Welcome Hall Mission is able to provide meals to Montreal’s homeless every day of the year.
The question may arise as to why in a country of Canada’s economic level, such services are required. The economy is a highly developed mixed economy with the 10th largest nominal gross domestic product (GDP) in the world. Canada also has a government social services system that provides the minimum resources for the basic living needs of every citizen.
The answer treads into a delicate area. Most of the homeless in Canada suffer from issues surrounding mental health, substance abuse, family violence and trauma. They fall between the cracks.
Even at Welcome Hall Mission, sometimes the people are not sober when they come for meals and can sometimes express their frustration through violent actions. Hitesh explains to deal with the issue, the Amma Québec volunteers make sure they are consciously kind and respectful to anyone and everyone who arrives.
“One employee at the Welcome Hall Mission told us that since we started volunteering there, the beneficiaries, who are mostly men, are grateful and polite. They even smile,” explains Hitesh. “For us, we have never personally experienced any violence. Meanwhile, the Hall Mission staff tell us they have never seen it so peaceful.”
The Amma Québec team consists of two coordinators who decide on the menu and buy the necessary ingredients. They meet the team of 8 to 10 more volunteers at Welcome Hall Mission, and together they wash and cut the vegetables, cook the meal, prepare juice and make a dessert.
“Some of the people who come for meals have been with Welcome Mission Hall for many years and are always happy to see us,” says Hitesh. “Despite whatever they are suffering, they often come after eating to thank us for the the delicious meal they have just enjoyed.”
At the same time, the volunteers are happy to come for the work and express much gratitude to the people they have served. In their eyes, such an opportunity to take part in selfless service is a precious gift to share. Some of the volunteers have been with the project since it began 12 years ago.
“Every volunteer is attentive to the required work while also serving with a smile of joy in their hearts,” concludes Hitesh. “Being in touch with these homeless people gives us the chance to develop our own humility and compassion. We always feel the infinite love that Amma has for the world when we are there.”