Nathalie Bouchard has been recognized by the Montreal MLS team for making a positive impact during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Impact's community MVP ensures needy in La Petite-Patrie have food on the table

“A lot of people who weren’t in a poverty situation just entered it with the pandemic. It happens really fast,” says Nathalie Bouchard, general director of the Centre de Ressources et d’Action Communautaire de la Petite-Patrie. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic last March, Nathalie Bouchard and her team often put in 10- or 12-hour workdays.

It became a monthly ritual for her to talk to a psychologist she had access to through her work at La Petite-Patrie’s Centre de Ressources et d’Action Communautaire (CRACPP), an organization that contributes to the fight against poverty and food waste.

“It’s been very tiring and there’s a lack of energy. During the first wave we were running on adrenalin. Since then it’s been very hard to cope,” said Bouchard, 45, who has worked with the CRACPP for slightly more than seven years and is the organization’s general director.

“To be honest, a lot of people who weren’t in a poverty situation just entered it with the pandemic. It happens really fast,” she said. “You turn around, have $1,000 in the bank, lose your job and boom. So many people have called who never had to use a food bank. People aren’t used to this and have no clue how to go about it.”

In conjunction with Major League Soccer and Wells Fargo, Bouchard is the Montreal MVP among 26 community MVPs — one for each of the 26 MLS teams — recognized for making a positive impact during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her nomination was put forth, without her knowledge in September, by her permanent staff of nine and ultimately finalized by the Montreal Impact. Each community MVP receives a donation to the charity of their choice along with other MLS-related items.

Despite the risks associated with the health crisis combined with the constant battle to raise resources, Bouchard and her team have answered every food request in the community.

Through its on-site grocery store, Le Panier engagé, the solidarity-based outlet aims to significantly reduce the costs of an average food basket. As well, the CRACPP’s committed harvest redistributes unsold products from the nearby Jean-Talon Market.

On a weekly basis, 1.5 tons of food pass through the CRACPP doors. And since March, the organization has handed out more than 3,400 food baskets and produced more than 6,000 prepared meals while redistributing almost 75 tons of canned goods.

Before the pandemic, as many as 125 households were being served per week, Bouchard said. That total has since doubled.

“Within two or three weeks, the problem became the demand,” she said.

The centre has been closed to the public since the second wave erupted last month — only delivery service is available every two weeks to residents who qualify. A variety of products are available, including fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products, frozen foods, ready-to-eat items, non-perishables, bakery goods and some hygiene articles.

It’s no surprise much of Bouchard’s energy is spent attempting to find the required financial resources to operate the centre — more than $500,000 annually. Last March, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced the city would contribute $1.1 million to an emergency fund set up by Centraide, with some of the money going to food banks. The provincial government also contributed $2 million. And last April, Prime Minister announced a federal $100-million Emergency Fund for food security in support of food banks.

There have been many first-time food-bank users since the start of COVID-19. According to a survey by Synopsis Research Marketing, nearly one in 10 Quebecers had used a food bank since the beginning of the pandemic — about half of those for the first time.

“When everything settles down and there’s a vaccine, these people will still have a hard time climbing back to normal,” said Bouchard, who contemplated taking a sick leave following two weeks’ vacation in September.

“The last few months, I don’t know what keeps me going, to be honest. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I’m very tired and think something’s wrong.”

Bouchard said she came by her benevolent nature through her upbringing. Raised ostensibly by her mother in the working-class neighbourhood of Pointe-St-Charles, there was always food on the table and a roof over her head, but few luxuries. It was the tightness and support of the community that resonated with Bouchard.

“I was always taught to give to others,” she said.


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