What a difference a year—and a pandemic—can make.
In the fall of 2020, during the months when COVID-19 raged, concern for unhoused neighbours in the area surrounding McGill prompted Sophie Hart to found Meals for Milton-Parc, a student-led meal-share initiative that provided food and care packages.
The group recently shifted its mission and took on a new name—Mobilizing for Milton-Parc (M4MP)—in order to meet the changing needs of unhoused people.
In its early days, M4MP focussed on getting food to those in need and making sure Milton-Parc’s unhoused neighbours felt cared for. Meal distribution was a cornerstone of that effort.
“I felt like we were not doing enough to support vulnerable people in our community,” Hart said. “With the pandemic, services were closing down due to public health requirements.”
What followed was an outpouring of support from the McGill community, much of it driven by social media. In the period between October 2020 and August 2021, M4MP raised close to $20,000 and distributed some 3,000 meals.
With services for the unhoused community returning to full working capacity as pandemic restrictions loosen, M4MP is now shifting gears to focus on supporting both Indigenous-led and non-Indigenous-led organizations in Montreal.
“We started our project because there was a need for us to meet,” Hart said. “But as the pandemic has begun to wind down, the organizations in our community have been able to get back to full capacity. We want them to know how much we appreciate the work they do, and that they have our community supporting them when they need it.”
M4MP now gives financial and material support to organizations such as The Open Door, The Montreal Indigenous Community Network, The Native Friendship Centre of Montreal, and Plein Milieu, to name a few.
With this shift in vision, M4MP has become a conduit for funds, food and material support, community building activities, and settler education projects.
The group runs community building activities for residents of the Hotel Dieu shelter, which is open 24/7. Since October 2021, M4MP has held art, self-care, and pumpkin-carving events.
“These activities, in my mind, are important to create connections among neighbours as well as to have some fun,” Hart said. “I think people forget that at the end of the day we all like to have fun, connect with neighbours, and talk to new people.”
Much of this programming has been made possible thanks to crowdfunding efforts through M4MP’s Instagram page. This year, M4MP started an “Education Team” that uses its online platform to educate settlers, and to stress the responsibility that they have in amplifying and supporting the voices of marginalized communities.
“[The past year] has made me realize how much can be done when caring people work together,” Hart said. “This year has also made me realize how broken the systems in place to support vulnerable people are. I’ve learned so much in such a short time, but what has stood out to me most is that we really need more people to join the care and community field.”