Community Kitchen Closure in Parc-Extension: A Story of Loss and Hope

2024-03-27 23:30:00

In Montreal, journalist Louis-Philippe Messier travels mostly on the run, his desk in his backpack, on the lookout for fascinating subjects and people. He speaks to everyone and is interested in all walks of life in this urban chronicle.

A community kitchen in Parc-Extension, which also served hot meals to local seniors at home for only $3, must cease its activities as of Thursday. The Montreal School Service Center is taking over its premises for renovation purposes. I shared a meal with already bereaved artisans and diners from this institution which has existed for more than 20 years.

It’s not just individuals who are likely to be “renovated” as tenants. It also happens to charitable organizations which, deprived of affordable premises, often have to scuttle themselves or cut back on certain services.

This is the case of the Parc-Extension Youth Organization, aka PEYO, which is closing its kitchen after 22 years of operation.

“Moving administrative offices is one thing. But we simply don’t have the means to relocate an entire professional kitchen… especially since the City won’t help us! » deplores Sandra Mbemba who has been supervising the meals for 17 years.

No more, therefore, the hundred complete meals at $6 for adults and $3 for children served every day for people in need… And we know, in the current context, far too many people are in dire need such food services.

Also gone are the Meals on Wheels which brought hot meals to those who could not travel…. a number of people growing with the aging of the population.

The PEYO delivery man sometimes represented the only daily visit for this vulnerable and isolated clientele. This link will be broken.

“Our delivery person knows them and, if someone doesn’t answer the door, we notify social services. Sometimes, that’s how we realize that some beneficiaries have died,” says Ms. Mbemba who out of habit continues to talk about her cafeteria in the present tense…

“We hope to be able to reopen our kitchen one day somewhere in the neighborhood or here after the renovations,” she adds, but I don’t sense much hope in her voice.

A hundred people got an affordable meal every lunchtime. Louis-Philippe Messier


When I arrive at the cafeteria on rue Saint-Roch, very close to Jarry Park, it is teeming with life: a mix of students, teachers from an adjacent school, adults learning French and people from the neighborhood.

The smell of tomato sauce permeates the semi-basement dining room.

A 46-year-old resident of the neighborhood, Claude Bélanger, cries while eating her pastitsio (a kind of Greek lasagna). She doesn’t yet know what she will do when the kitchen closes, the staff of which, she tells me, has become like family to her.

“When I started volunteering eight years ago, it was to no longer stay alone at home all day doing nothing… and now, I don’t know what I will do next week” , confides Ms. Bélanger who takes care of cleaning the tables and emptying the trash cans at the end of each meal period.

“I don’t want to stay cooped up at home… but I don’t know what I’m going to do. » It’s heartbreaking.

chef francois

Distraught by the disappearance of the cafeteria which was like his family, volunteer Claude Bélanger had difficulty speaking to me without shedding tears. Louis-Philippe Messier

For the penultimate and last meal in the kitchen, its chef of 18 years will prepare his two most popular favorite dishes.

“It’s unfortunate what’s happening to us, but we have to end this on a high note…and that means Korean fried chicken on Wednesday and griot (Haitian fried pork) on Thursday! » says chef François Brière to me, as he turns the floured pieces in the hot oil.

On Thursday there will be a huge amount of griot available because people are coming with their dishes and ordering extra portions…and they may want even more since it will be the last time.

chef francois

The meal trays included a plate like this one (of pastitsio on the day of my visit), soup, bread, a salad and a drink… for $6! And it was $3 for children and vulnerable seniors who received these hot meals at home. Louis-Philippe Messier

Hello City?

“Many organizations neighboring PEYO in the same building taken over by the CSSDM were urgently rehoused, but finding space for a large industrial kitchen was not possible,” laments Laurence Lavigne-Lalonde, the Mayor of Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension.

“We will be there to facilitate lease negotiations if premises become available and, if the possibility of temporarily relocating activities to a kitchen outside the neighborhood arises, we will consider it. »

Will a project for a large “community house” for Parc-Ex, which has been on the mayor’s mind for several years, come to fruition thanks to this major disruption? This would avoid future renovations like this. A mega-community complex in the poorest neighborhood in Quebec would not be luxury. The borough has been reserving land for several years expressly for this project which is taking time, of course, because the governments are in no hurry to finance it.

chef francois

For two and a half hours, people from the neighborhood, families, students and teachers came to eat in the cafeteria. Louis-Philippe Messier

#renovated #popular #meals #forced #close

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