Women’s shelters and organizations in Montreal are important pillars in the city, providing support, services and shelter to women and children experiencing homelessness and domestic violence. With the social distancing directives brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, families are forced to stay home together, leading some authorities to anticipate an escalation in domestic violence due to the combined stressors of the pandemic and accompanying economic hardship.

With the shelters already struggling with high demand and inadequate funding prior to the pandemic, they are markedly under-resourced at this time owing to reduced volunteer load and private funding, diminished campaigning opportunity, increased need of items to provide support to women safely, and concurrent high demand for beds. All the while, women experiencing homelessness are facing disproportionate risk of food insecurity and virus contraction in the midst of the pandemic.

Enter Helping Hands, a McGill medical student-led initiative founded three years ago by Minuoja Chandramohan and Daniel Kaufman, that aims to help women from disadvantaged backgrounds by providing them a form of primary prevention through a feminine hygiene kit. The group now counts 11 medical students among its leadership and a multidisciplinary cohort of student volunteers who volunteer their time to assemble the kits that contain basic sanitary items.  These kits are distributed to women in need through the shelters and clinics and are meant to last for a month. Since their inception, the group has distributed more than 500 kits through the Chronic Viral Illness Service Clinic, the Native Women Shelter Montreal and the CLSC Parc Extension.

Looking to lend a helping hand to Montreal organizations in need

Searching for a way to help during the pandemic, Helping Hands reached out to eleven women’s shelters and organizations in Montreal, who are only able to see people with urgent needs at this time. “The organizations unanimously voiced a preference for receiving financial aid rather than items to distribute in order to reduce the risk of further contributing to the proliferation of the coronavirus,” explains Tarsan Sangarapillai, Co-President of Helping Hands.

The group decided on a goal of raising $800, to be distributed equally to four organizations. The Women’s Centre of Montreal is a non-profit organization which provides educational and vocational training services, employment opportunities and food assistance to women all over the city. During the COVID-19 crisis, supply of fresh foods for their 60 monthly food baskets for families in need is limited. They will be using donations to purchase gift cards to add to food baskets so that families can buy fresh food products for their pantries.

La rue des femmes is a non-profit relational health centre providing shelter and care to over 1000 women experiencing homeless annually. Funds donated to them will be used to help keep their shelter operating throughout this period of markedly reduced private funding.

Logifem has provided shelter and care to women and children experiencing vulnerability in Montreal since 1988. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Logifem has had to drastically reduce in-person volunteer help due to social distancing policies. They will be using donations to purchase essential hygiene products, including hand sanitizer, and to provide paychecks and for the employees picking up extra responsibilities to keep their doors open to women and children city-wide.

Finally, the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal is the only women’s shelter in the city that provides services and shelter exclusively to Indigenous women and children. They will be using funds to provide basic health and hygiene supplies, such as underwear, razors and nail clippers, to vulnerable women seeking support amidst this pandemic.

Any amount raised beyond the students’ initial goal of $800 will also be distributed equally among the four supported organizations.

“This pandemic has hit us all harder than we could have imagined,” says Vithushaa Panchadcharam, VP Marketing,  “In the midst of all of this, if you’re able to help even a little to make an appreciable change on the lived experiences of those navigating this pandemic with less stability, security and resources than you, your donation would not go unnoticed.”

For more information, or to support this initiative, click here.

April 23 2020