Grassroots initiative earns its wings by feeding the hungry

Community project in Montreal stocks food banks with airplane meals

Grounded airplanes helped an idea take flight in east Montreal—could airplane meals be redirected to feed hungry people during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The plan, conceived by a committee of local organizations, would not only provide an innovative solution to help people in need, it would also support an industry severely affected by travel restrictions.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people needed food,” says Daniel Gratton, a member of the committee. “It was an emergency situation.”

Gratton is the general manager of the Société Ressources-Loisirs de Pointe-aux-Trembles (SRLPAT), a non-profit organization with two community centers in east Montreal. When the centers closed due to the pandemic, Gratton offered his organization’s help to two small, local food banks, Action Secours Vie d'Espoir and Cuisine à Toute Vapeur.

SRLPAT had the size, connections and resources to put the initiative in motion. The non-profit applied for funding to purchase the food from nearby company Fleury Michon and also received a $7,000 grant from Enbridge to rent a commercial freezer to store the meals at a SRLPAT center.

“We wanted to be part of something that would make a difference,” Gratton explains. “We took it on ourselves to help because no one else could. The small food banks didn’t have capacity to get and manage funding or to store and deliver the food in such large quantities.”

In the first few months of COVID, the team distributed 1,000 to 2,000 meals per week to community members in need. SRLPAT staff and community volunteers helped with deliveries and continue to do so.

Though the committee was a brand-new partnership, the initiative has been an overwhelming success. “What connected us was that we wanted to get together in this emergency situation and take action together to do something about it,” Gratton says.

The memories of doing this important work during the pandemic will stay with him for the rest of his life. He recalls getting up at 6 a.m. to be on-site to receive food deliveries and seeing his staff head out on deliveries. He’s proud of the project’s success: people who need food are receiving healthy meals, and the project is strengthening the community.

Says Gratton: “People from different backgrounds got together, worked together and made a difference.”

(TOP PHOTO: An Enbridge corporate citizenship donation helped SRLPAT rent a commercial freezer and store thousands of airplane meals (inset) for distribution at one of its locations.)