Ahnee, Boozhoo, Niin Renee Nindiishnakaaz. This is Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) for, “Hello, my name is Renee.” I am an Indigenous youth, and like many of my people, I am angry. Angry about the settler state occupying our land, furious about the Canadian government’s broken promises, and enraged by the mass inaction in solving these issues faced by Indigenous people
Political beliefs aside, I think we can all agree there are issues going unsolved in many of our communities. Homelessness, poverty, hunger, environmental destruction – the list goes on. Many of these issues are not necessarily being addressed effectively. For many youth, this can be very frustrating – to feel powerless in the face of crisis. Rather than wait for elderly white cis men in power to listen to calls for action, I urge this generation to take initiative. Community care is the solution to the gaps in services our government refuses to provide. It is a way of offering help to those in need without relying on inadequate institutional support.
This is what students at McGill University have done in the face of issues we saw in our own community. The student neighborhood in Montreal is in close proximity to a large population of unhoused people, of which a disproportionate majority are Indigenous. We saw a lack of aid being provided to these individuals, with city police going as far as confiscating the unhoused individual’s belongings. It seemed city officials were more inclined to further disadvantage the unhoused than they were to offer adequate assistance. Together, we organized to do something about it. Meals for Milton-Parc is an entirely student-led organization that was launched October 7th, 2020 by our Director, Sophie Hart, and has been growing rapidly since.
With over 250 student volunteers, we provide home-cooked meals three days a week, as well as hygiene/care packages, winter clothing, and more. Our work has even expanded to advocacy for the unhoused population as they navigate a legal system that has overlooked them during this pandemic. For example, the recent curfew imposed in Quebec will impact those without shelter to a tremendous degree, so we have been advocating on their behalf to exempt the unhoused from the $6,000 fine.
We regularly collaborate with local shelters and other organizations to ensure comprehensive care is being provided. With over $7000 in donations raised since October, I would say the initiative has been very successful, however, we still need more hands and help wherever we can get it!
I would like to encourage you to participate in our mutual aid project at http://www.mealsformiltonparc.org/ or even think of starting an initiative in your own community!
How to Engage in Community Care
Many of the issues we see in our society can seem too big for us to tackle on our own, but that’s okay! The best part about community care is that everyone is working to support each other. Don’t get caught up on what can’t be done, or what seems impossible, focus on smaller, meaningful actions.
Step 1: Identify a problem in your community
Our team at Meals for Milton-Parc saw the large unhoused population receiving minimal support as one of the most pressing issues as we approached winter. It is best to focus your efforts in one place. I know we would love to solve all the problems in our world, but these multifaceted issues require sustained attention and creative solutions, so try not to spread your efforts too thin.
Step 2: Ask how you can help
When working with those without shelter or other disadvantaged groups, it is important to remember that we do not know better than the affected individuals about their own needs. Avoid imposing your ideals on others experiencing things you may not fully understand. Instead of assuming what they may or may not need, take the time to ask how you could help. If a group or individual expresses they would not like any help, you must respect this. Be cautious of white saviorism – community care is about helping others, not about helping yourself feel or appear “good”. Also consider the many organizations already offering support in your area of interest – often it is best to join an initiative already in place, as they are usually always happy to have the extra help. If you cannot find an organization targeting the issues of concern, you can try starting something of your own. If you continue offering support, remember to also continue checking in with the individuals about how you can best help them.
Step 3: Do the best you can
Any kind of mutual aid is often better than none at all, so do not be perturbed from helping by the complexity of the issue. After asking how you can help, the next step is to just try your best to meet the needs communicated by those you’re trying to aid. If you cannot do everything that was asked of you, that’s ok! Be honest and let them know that you heard them, you tried, and this is the best you can do for the time being. Remember that you are working with real people, with real thoughts and real emotions. Avoid asserting power dynamics or alienation and focus on forming genuine relationships with those you aim to support.
Step 4: Find others interested in helping
If things are going well and you have established a relationship with a person or group in need, consider finding other friends or organizations to work with. Community care can be small acts of kindness, but it can also be a big responsibility to take on alone. Community care works best when it is consistently provided, so try to find others who can help you keep it going. This could look like a group of friends interested in pooling resources or sharing responsibilities, or it could be connecting with local organizations interested in helping. Think of the resources you have access to as a student – your school’s funding opportunities and established groups – perhaps you can connect them to your cause.
Step 5: Keep it going!
Although you may initially be able to collect funds for your cause through pure altruism, this does not often establish secure means of consistent funding. There are many ways to raise money for a cause and I am sure you can think of a few on your own. At Meals for Milton-Parc, we have multiple streams of donations. Local shops and artists have contributed proceeds from their work, as well as supplied items for online auctions we have hosted. Sometimes we have donations of food from nearby shops as well. Rather than purchase all the items we would like to provide for the unhoused, we also collect donations of winter clothing, hygiene/care items, and more. The best advice for mutual aid projects is to spread the word about what you are doing. If you are not asking for help, it will be difficult to find any. Maintain transparency about what resources are needed and where they will go once they are donated. If you cannot maintain the same support you began with, communicate this to those you have been working with, as it can be difficult if the support they have become reliant on suddenly stops.
Community is all we have. For some individuals, whether their needs are met through community care is a matter of life and death, so start showing love to your community! I cannot wait to see the world our generation can create if we just care a little more about others!
Header Image: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/8303580553433346/