“I was shocked at how many poor people there were in the West Island,” West Island Assistance Fund executive director Claudine Campeau told The Suburban. She discovered the full extent of the West Island’s invisible poverty when she joined the charity one year ago.
Known to most simply as Fonds d’aide—the first two words of its French name—the charity has provided food, clothing and furniture to needy West Islanders since 1966. It currently operates a store on Centre Commercial street, just south of Gouin Boulevard in Pierrefonds-Roxboro.
Though West Island average family income tends to be higher than elsewhere in Montreal, there are poverty pockets where as much as a quarter of the population lives on less than $10,000 per year.
“Most Fonds d’aide clients live in Pierrefonds-Roxboro and Dollard des Ormeaux. The lower housing cost in areas such as Cloverdale and À Ma Baie attracts people with limited means. But we serve most of the West Island,” she explained.
“Including Kirkland,” she added, a town usually known for having the highest personal income growth rate on the island of Montreal.
Ms. Campeau is quick to point out that “our focus is not numbers. Rather, our mission is to give out food to people who need it.”
“We get a few one-timers, but most we see month after month,” she continued.
To reduce their dependence, “Fonds d’aide runs workshops to help our clients integrate into the workforce. In summer, we also help families pay for day camp for their kids. They pay a nominal amount and we pay the rest. We do the same during the school break.”
While most of Fonds d’aide’s clientele are Canadian, a large minority is new to Canada.
“We helped people from 37 different countries in 2011,” noted Ms. Campeau.
Many speak languages other than English, French, Spanish or even Arabic.
“When we prepare food baskets, we call each of them. We find out whether they might have special food needs if, for example, they are Muslim, have allergies or are vegetarian.”
Fonds d’aide’s largest clientele are families with children. The second-largest group is single-parent households headed by women, followed by single men.
“People who live alone—most people don’t think about them,” observed Ms. Campeau.
According to West Island Community Shares, parts of the West Island have a higher proportion of elderly citizens than elsewhere in Montreal, a proportion that is growing.