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Santropol Roulant Volunteer LeadWhile en route delivering meals, Santropol Roulant volunteer Tom Quinn stops at an intersection in the McGill ghetto, one of eight Montreal neighborhoods served by the non-profit organization.
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Santropol Roulant Volunteer Pat QuinnSantropol Roulant volunteer Pat Quinn delivers a hot meal and a friendly smile to Robert James, one of 150 recipients of the Montréal organization’s meals-on-wheels service.
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Santool Volunteer MechanicA volunteer mechanic helps a santropol roulant member with some repairs on the sidewalk in front of Santrovélo.
By Fiona O’Connor
At the south-eastern foot of Montréal’s scenic Mont-Royal and less than a block away from Jeanne Mance Park, a kitchen full of volunteers is packing up some eighty freshly baked meals to be delivered throughout the city by foot, bike, and car. On the menu: coconut chicken curry served with Brussels sprouts and turnip purée, a choice of a fresh fruit salad or green salad, and a homemade dessert or pudding.
Hot, hearty helpings like these – served five days a week to a total of 150 regular and occasional clients – are the essence of Santropol Roulant, a Montréal community organization that aims to break social isolation and connect generations of city dwellers through the common language of food.
Roulant runs a gamut of projects: The Rooftop Garden, which provides roughly 30 per cent of their organic vegetables in the summer months; SantroVélo, a community bike shop serving both the public and meals-on-wheels volunteers; year-round cooking workshops; intergenerational events and activities; and a worm composting project designed to meet the organization’s zero waste and minimal emissions operations goals. Yet despite its multi-faceted nature, the central purpose of the non-profit charity is one and the same.
“I think it all comes down to the meal delivery at heart,” said 28-year old Tim Murphy, Sustainability Coordinator for Roulant. “Everything we do is about that core mission of getting meals to people with a loss of autonomy… As we grow, what keeps us focused and together is the act of preparing and delivering the meals.”
Though the majority of its meal service recipients are seniors, the organization’s reach extends to Montrealers whose autonomy is limited by other factors, such as poverty, disability, or cognitive impairments.
“For some people it can be a temporary injury, like someone’s broken both of their wrists or something, so they need help for a while getting food,” Murphy said. “For some people it’s more permanent – they’re getting on in age and they find it difficult to cook for themselves or to eat well – otherwise they’re eating cookies and tea, or a fried egg every night.”
As a community organization, Santropol Roulant does not determine who is eligible to receive their $3.50 a-day meal, made – as much as possible – from organic, Québec-produced ingredients and surplus from local grocers. Instead, clients – who become members of the organization upon receiving a meal – are referred through social workers, doctors, or local community service centres.
Santropol Roulant’s mandate of fostering contact between generations serves the needs of the elderly or socially isolated, and strives to engage youth for whom a sense of kinship is equally vital. Rooted in Montréal’s minority anglophone community though not limited to it, Roulant’s weekly team of over 100 volunteers is an eclectic mix of out-of-town university students and Montrealers by both birth and affinity who range in age between 14 and 35.
Thirty-one year old Pat Quinn is one of Santropol Roulant’s longest-standing volunteers. The Ontario-born musician and part-time bartender has been delivering meals by bike for four and half years. For him, the Saint-Urbain and Duluth hub is like a home away from home. After a stint living in Toronto, Quinn returned to the French-Canadian metropolis and the organization that first helped him get to know it.
“As soon as I came back, I started right back at Santropol Roulant like it was the only family I knew here … there’s something very warm about it,” he said.
Having worked in various areas of the organization, from fundraising to the kitchen, Quinn said he most prefers delivering meals by bike for the personal freedom and level of social interaction it affords him.
“The delivery, for me, is just a fun thing to do,” he said. “I like to get out and bike around the city anyway and it gives a good justification for doing that because you can see that it’s helping people and many of the clients are so thankful when you stop by. You can just tell that they appreciate the smile and the generosity that we try to bring them.”
Over half of the meals delivered are done so on foot or by bike. In the case of Santropol Roulant, the marriage of cycling and food is the logical outcome of a value system premised on sustainability and outreach. It’s also a primary means of effecting social change at the grassroots level. SantroVélo, the bike shop housed in a section of Roulant’s basement and which often spills out onto the Duluth sidewalk on nice days, is one of the organization’s many entry points for community members and volunteers alike.
Established in 2006 for the purposes of maintaining Roulant’s fleet of three delivery bikes, SantroVélo has since evolved into one of several low-cost cycling co-ops in the city. For either five dollars a visit or 15 dollars for an annual membership, cyclists of all persuasions can use the space and its tools to repair, tune up, or build their bikes from scratch, drawing on the expertise of friendly and laid-back volunteer mechanics.
Through the sale of memberships, parts and bikes, SantroVélo is one of Roulant’s self-financing initiatives, complementing the funding it receives from federal, provincial, and municipal governments; private donors; businesses, and foundations. But with no specifically allocated funds, SantroVélo relies heavily on its reputation within the community and therefore, on the quantity of bikes and bike parts it receives through donation.
Santropol Roulant, like the bikes its members build, is an emblem of regeneration. With its efforts focused on improving the quality of life for all citizens and its mandate to equip youth with the professional skills to do so, there is no doubt the social value of organizations such as Roulant will only increase in the future – something Pat Quinn is as sure about as his love of Montréal:
“So many people could benefit from this experience as a way of immersing yourself in the city life, meeting new people and exploring parts of the city you wouldn’t normally visit, plus seeing a lot of different types of elevators! For me it’s fun, and good karma.”