One of the newest projects that Borderless World Volunteers is developing this year is the Sandwich Distribution for the Homeless, organized by the Local Project Development committee. The idea for this project came to us when we volunteered with the People’s Church last semester to make sandwiches and distribute them to the homeless people in the streets of downtown Montreal. We decided to start our own sandwich distribution based on Sandwich in the City of the People’s Church, but without the religious part, so that more people are able to participate. Since the month of October, BWV members have come together once a month to make sandwiches and distribute them to homeless people in the streets.
The Saturday of our first distribution, it was raining. Everyone came to my apartment to help make the sandwiches and to write little notes to tape to the sandwich bags. We prepared a little more than 24 sandwiches to hand out. We split into two groups and made our ways down the streets of downtown. Because it was raining, we had a hard time finding homeless people. There were a few in metro Place des Arts, but it was not cold enough for them to stay there all day. We managed to hand out all 24 sandwiches to people scattered around the city.
Our November distribution was much more successful. We realized that for the first distribution we had been under budget, so we added raisins and juice boxes to the meal. This was a good idea, but we almost didn’t have enough sandwiches for all the people we found! Another addition to the distribution was winter clothing. Borderless World Volunteers had hosted a winter clothing and blanket drive to distribute to the homeless during our regular sandwich distribution. We distributed most of the clothing we had collected in a week that Saturday. Most of us went straight for the metros, because of the cool weather. We gave out all our sandwiches in less than one hour. We went to the Berri/UQAM, McGill, Sherbrooke, and St. Denis metro stops, and found that there were more homeless the closer we got to the Concordia University area.
Throughout the semester, we have tried to improve our project for each distribution. One of our goals is to hold more frequent distributions and to build a closer relationship between BWV and the homeless community. This way we can help them get what they need in a more efficient way. This was put into action during the second distribution. We tried to talk to the homeless and ask them their names. One of our groups met Daniel, Morris, and Steven. Daniel was in a wheelchair and had a hard time communicating with us, but Morris was right by his side helping him out. Both were French speakers and we gave them some winter clothing. Steven was sitting down and playing the harmonica with a green hat in front of him to collect coins. He took a sandwich, but refused the clothing because he had pretty much all he needed. We stayed with him a few minutes and he told us a little about himself. He grew up on a farm with lots of siblings. He told us he was spending the winter at his sister’s cottage. He also asked us an incredible question, “If you had one wish in the entire world, what would it be?” And before we could even think, he told us he would tell us his wish first. He said he wished for world peace for at least 6 hours on Christmas day. This hit us deeply because all we saw was a man in need who was trying to make money off of playing the harmonica on the floor of the metro station. But when we talked to him, he seemed like the most optimistic person in the world. He told us that his favorite time to play in the metro is on weekends, because the children in the metro station would stop and listen to him and even dance to his tunes.
Another one of our goals is to put into action a filming project where we would sit down and have a meal with some of the homeless people and ask them to tell us their story on camera. This would help to humanize the homeless and break the stereotypes that people have of them. Before filming and exposing these people, we want to achieve our first goal to create a relationship with them, and then ask for their permission to expose them.
Though we have made progress this semester, there is still a lot of work to be done. This monthly distribution is mandatory for international volunteers, so that they can practice and become comfortable with being involved in a community. This will help them to create their own projects and become part of a community in a developing country. It is important to volunteer in your own community before volunteering in a new community where you will take time to adapt and adjust to the culture. The volunteers have made a lot of progress this semester by taking leadership in the divided groups, handing out sandwiches and talking to the people, which is not very easy. They have been suggesting new ideas we could add to the project, such as adding nutritious foods instead of just a cereal bar and a juice box, and asking the homeless people what they need and how we can help them. The Winter Clothing and Blanket Drive has been a success and has hopefully helped those who were missing warm clothes. Some of the additions we would like to make to our project would be making a brochure of resources the homeless could go to for help, for medical services, for clothes, and for food. We would like to make the distributions more frequent and have pins made so that the homeless can recognize us and we can start creating a stronger relationship with them. We would also like to make more sandwiches, and start having volunteers outside of BWV help out and take part in our distribution. These changes will be made next semester.