Montreal homeless Jessica Glazer

Jessica Glazer | Instagram

How ordinary Montrealers are feeding the homeless in unprecedented times

“I couldn’t believe there were so many people on the street who didn’t know when and where their next meal would come from.”

This past year has been mentally and physically challenging for everyone. The pandemic has added to the ever-growing list of people relying on food banks and shelters, making it even harder for those experiencing homelessness to have access to help.  

But many Montrealers have also risen to the challenge and displayed extraordinary generosity, coming together in a variety of ways to help those in need. Most of them have been working tirelessly behind the scenes, with only one goal in mind: to help those less fortunate.

A single mom on a mission 

One of those people is single-mom Jessica Glazer, who started feeding people on the street back in October as a simple way for her eight-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter to become involved with volunteering and learn to give back. Six months later she now feeds those without shelter on a weekly basis. 

“It just started with a simple idea,” she says. “It was a Saturday night, nothing was going on because of COVID restrictions, and I thought, ‘Let’s go to Costco, buy a dozen pizzas, chips, drinks and drive around town distributing them.’”

Once the trio started scouring the streets, Glazer immediately saw the raw desperation and need. “When we drove to Berri metro, about 100 people appeared out of nowhere,” she says. “Everyone was so incredibly grateful and polite, they kept their distance as per public-health guidelines, but they weren’t just hungry, they were starving.” 

The following week, armed with bagels and coffee, she went out on her own. “I’m fortunate enough that my business is surviving the pandemic,” she says, “but I couldn’t believe there were so many people on the street who didn’t know when and where their next meal would come from.” Glazer vowed to come out every Wednesday.

Montreal businesses on board

Her next step was to reach out for help. As the owner of her own headhunting company, MindHR, Glazer is used to the chase and has the go-getter attitude required. She also has the corporate connections, and wasn’t shy about using them. 

Provigo branches on Monkland, Cavendish and St-Jacques gave her lunch bags, Bagels on Greene started donating bagels when she bought coffee from them. When she asked for help on social media, Boston Pizza and Boustan reached out. Westmount’s le Fournil bakery donates soup and cookies on a weekly basis. Basse Nuts gives her cases upon cases of nuts. F&F Pizza, Casa Grecque LaSalle, Cote St. Luc BBQ, 3 Amigos, Snowdon Deli, Dunn’s, 5 Saisons and Baba Thai are just some of the many local restaurants and grocery stores that, despite their own financial setbacks these past 12 months, agreed to help. 

Get-to-Give & Montreal Pickup: From Waste to Waste Not

In February, Sumac Restaurant in St-Henri started collaborating with Glazer, committing to 40 meals per week. They, in turn, posted a call-out on Instagram, asking if any clients, peers, friends or suppliers were interested in adding to this total by participating in the Get-to-Give initiative, which allows people to support their local restaurant supporting a good cause.

“A total of 90 meals were donated within 24 hours,” Sumac co-owner David Bloom tells me. “On top of the 40 meals we committed to per week, that adds up to 250 meals for the month of March on our end.”

The process is simple enough. Those interested in contributing, add $15 to their tab when ordering take-out, which pays for one donated hot meal for the homeless. 

“It’s just a win-win situation for everybody,” Glazer says. 

Corporations have also jumped on board, donating sleeping bags, coats, socks, boxes of clothing and on and on. Not everyone is comfortable going out to distribute the food, Glazer explains, but local citizens donate supplies or money to support the purchases and she does the rest. 

In addition to these initiatives, she also founded Montreal Pickup: From Waste to Waste Not, a city-wide Facebook group that relies on volunteers to go and pick up food from grocery stores that otherwise would be thrown out. Grocery stores often have food they want to donate to low-income families or shelters but lack the resources to bring it to the allocated locations, so it ends up in the garbage. 

The beauty of a community coming together 

Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, which runs Resilience Montreal, a drop-in day shelter that helps the city’s homeless Indigenous population and serves over 1,000 meals every day, enthusiastically supports initiatives like Glazer’s.

“I strongly encourage people to do what she’s doing,” she says. “There are more homeless now than ever thanks to the pandemic and my staff and I are often burnt out. We rely on volunteers who often come out on weekends to help feed the homeless and give us a much-needed hand.” 

Nakuset also wants to see schools and parents bring the kids out to volunteer. “I often go into the metro with my two young kids after lunch to hand out food,” she says. “It’s about more than just feeding them, it’s about the human connection, the eye contact, it goes a long way towards removing the stigma of the ‘scary hobo.’ And they’re so appreciative because they’re so used to people always ignoring them.”

Contributing to this cause has also made Bloom more appreciative of what he does have, despite what a difficult year it’s been for restaurants in the city. “Watching Jessica collect for those who don’t have food or shelter has given me incredible perspective,” he says. “We’ve all had it rough this past year, and I wouldn’t fault anyone for not being able to help, but what she describes on the streets is a whole different kind of rough.”

All three levels of government recently announced historic investments to secure a permanent location for Resilience. While Nakuset is ecstatic, she warns the need remains high. In the meantime, she has nothing but gratitude for people like Glazer and the volunteers found every weekend at Cabot Square, who make it just a little bit easier on their already stretched-to-the-max facilities. 

The need isn’t melting with the snow

As a single mom of two young children who runs her own business in the middle of a global pandemic, Glazer might have had a valid excuse not to add volunteering to her already-full plate. But she considers it her duty as a human being. She’s disappointed more government help wasn’t immediately available.

“How did we allow a man to die in a porta potty?” she asks, referencing the death of Raphaël André, a 51-year-old homeless Innu man whose body was found in a portable toilet just steps away from a closed shelter this past January after health authorities forced it to close overnight.

Nakuset | Instagram

Glazer warns that just because the weather is getting nicer, it doesn’t mean that those without shelter are safer. “They still won’t be able to take care of themselves and they need all the help they can get. They have no voice whatsoever, so we need to be their voice.” 

Nakuset echoes that sentiment, hoping to eventually see mental-health professionals walking the streets. “It’s not just lack of food or shelter, many of these people have mental-health problems and need help.”

In the meantime, Glazer keeps collecting food and keeps driving around the city feeding the homeless every week.

“Six months in, it continues to shock me that there’s so much need,” she tells me. “I honestly don’t know at what point I’ll stop being shocked.” ■

If you would like to volunteer or donate food or money for the homeless, you can email Jessica Glazer at jessica@mindhr.com or reach out on Facebook or Instagram.


Read more editorials by Toula Drimonis here.