Roulant Keeps on Rolling

Roulant Keeps on Rolling McGill University

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Home > McGill News > 2001 > Winter 2001-2002 > Roulant Keeps on Rolling
Roulant Keeps On Rolling

The room on the corner of Saint Urbain and Duluth streets in Montreal is casual chic. It looks and feels like a student hangout -- posters dot the walls and a ping pong table dominates the centre of the room. It's the kind of place you can walk into and relax, and indeed, groups of young people are sitting on desks and chatting or reclining on the second-hand couches arranged in a corner near the entrance. As volunteers for Santropol Roulant, a city-wide meals on wheels program, they'll soon be busy.

The mouth-watering smell of fresh cooking means that other Santropol Roulant staff and volunteers have been at work for some time in the kitchen next door, producing the dinners that will shortly be on the road. Once everything is ready, the meals will be tucked into special insulated backpacks. Then the growing crowd of young people will strap on the packs and head to their assigned destinations.

Deliveries in nearby neighbourhoods are done by bicycle, public transportation or on foot. Santropol Roulant also has two cars, since it is considered a regional service and has to reach 25 clients in west-end Notre Dame de Grace, for example.

The smells from the kitchen must have gotten to Vanessa Reid, BA'93, MArch'98. As a helpful volunteer guides me to her desk, the executive director of Santropol Roulant is munching on take-out from a styrofoam container and discussing an upcoming meeting on the phone.

Multi-tasking is probably one of Reid's most important skills. In the year since she became executive director, she has been responsible for managing the charity's annual budget of $400,000, as well as keeping track of a constantly changing series of grants and securing donations to keep the operation afloat. She is also in charge of a small paid staff, a professional kitchen, a "fleet" of cars and bicycles and the dozens of volunteers who drive them. The job involves a lot of small details, but Reid is not one to lose sight of the forest for the trees.

"We're engaging a generation of young people to take an active role in the health of their community, and not only that, but to identify and address what the issues are... [so] they're equipped and inspired to take action," said Reid.

In Reid's view, Santropol Roulant is not just about delivering meals. For her it is an intergenerational outreach, putting university-age volunteers in contact with seniors or people who are housebound. "Many friendships flourish between the volunteers and clients," she says. "Volunteers will often go have a visit on their own time; to play chess, garden, do some shopping for someone who can't get out, or just talk."

As the population ages and health care services are cut back, Reid says the Roulant plays a vital role in helping seniors maintain their independence.

"It keeps them out of institutions because they have someone visiting. There's some social and emotional stimulation -- it keeps them a little bit healthier for a little bit longer. Breaking social isolation is as much a preventative health measure as providing regular, nutritious meals."

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