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Montreal community group fills void left by school, daycare closures for families in need

Tucked in behind a church in Montreal’s Hochelaga neighbourhood, Répit Providence is easy to miss. The small but mighty team of women behind the organization has transformed its service in the past two months, to answer a new and desperate need in the community since the arrival of COVID-19. 

Normally, the organization’s mission is to provide respite housing for children from families that are struggling. Their proactive approach, aimed at preventing neglect, gives both parents and children a break from one another. 

Before the pandemic hit, Répit Providence would offer respite care to children up to five years of age, as well as their older siblings. It served around 30 families on a rotating basis in the east end of Montreal. 

When COVID-19 arrived, that all came to a screeching halt. 

“We had to adapt and ask ourselves how we could help the families we normally serve,” said Maya Iwaskow, Répit Providence’s community co-ordinator. 

Répit Providence’s community co-ordinator, Maya Iwaskow, unloads boxes of fresh food. Her organization has been delivering food to 180 families in Montreal’s east end — four times the number that used that service before the pandemic. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC News)

Their answer was to expand what used to be a small food-basket service into a food delivery operation. Partnering with Moisson Montreal, they sent their early childhood educators and outreach workers out into the community in refrigerated trucks, to go door to door to families in need.

The demand for that service has quadrupled, and they’re now delivering food and other essentials to about 180 families. 

No more school breakfasts, snacks

Iwaskow explained that when they’re in operation, schools and daycares offer essential services, including subsidized snacks and meals — food that thousands of children in Montreal rely on. 

Now those children are all at home, round the clock, and their parents are scrambling to stretch their budgets to cover three meals a day, plus snacks.

“We work with families who don’t have access to the internet, who can’t place an order on line. They don’t have credit cards,” Iwaskow said. 

Many of their parents are also single mothers or fathers who don’t have a social network they can rely on, which makes basic errands like getting groceries nearly impossible. 

“A single parent with two young kids, three young kids, they cannot go into the grocery store with their family. They can’t leave the kids alone at home,” she said. 

The food delivery also allows the staff at Répit Providence to stay in close contact with families in need and check up on them regularly. It’s a chance for them to offer support and to make sure no one is on the brink of crisis. 

While staff members say they’ll continue to be creative and find ways to help their community, they warn that for many families, the closure of schools could have real and lasting consequences.

For more on this story, watch the video above. 

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