A 3.5 million dollar miracle on Hickmore St.

Par P.A. Sévigny le 26 février 2009

All of the pallets measure four by four by four feet high full of shrink-wrapped cases of macaroni and cheese, soup, pickles and jam. Rented cube vans wait patiently for their turn at the loading docks while lift trucks race around the warehouse piled high with crates full of broccoli, potatoes, onions and apples. In the back under the lights, at least two dozen volunteers are sorting through thousands of oranges as the bad ones are tossed into a loader at the end of the table. After she stopped to chat with some of the women who were working at the tables, Johanne Théroux , Moisson Montreal ‘s executive director, said volunteers were at the heart of the food bank’s mission.  

“If these people didn’t show up every day,” she said, “I don’t think we could carry on like this.”

Every year, the food bank sorts through and moves over 810 000 kilos of produce worth almost $40 million dollars to over 200 community groups throughout the metropolitan area.  Over 200 companies supply the food bank with enough produce to feed a minimum of 110 000 people every month of which at least 33 000 are children. The new Good Food Box program has over 120 000 new clients and the food bank supplies enough product to make another 540 000 meals for the city’s various shelters.

“We’re the biggest food bank in Canada and there’s no end to the demand for food and everything else we do,” said Théroux.

Created in 1984 to help build a bridge between the grim realities of a welfare check, hungry children and no food with days to go before the end of the month, Montreal’s food banks were meant to be a temporary initiative “at least until the recession is over.” Twenty five years later, Théroux and others believe community food banks are now an indispensable part of the city’s safety net.

“We have a social mission, a political mission, an economic mission and finally an ecological mission,” said Théroux. “It’s difficult to imagine how not too long ago, all of this used to go straight to the dump.”

Located on the corner of Hickmore and the Ct. De Liesse Road in Ville Saint Laurent’s industrial park, Moisson Montréal ‘s warehouse (107 000 square feet ) was built in 1954. For almost 30 years, it was used as a shipping and storage facility for one of Montreal’s well known cement plants until it was sold to the newly incorporated Moisson Montreal.  The food bank immediately began to use the space as a transit point between major food contributors and the smaller community groups who could distribute the product to the people who needed it. Twenty five years later, the food bank’s main asset was in dire need of repair. Workers recall a freezing cold warehouse in the winter, sweltering heat during the summer and water pouring into the building through the roof every time it rained. While the food bank struggled to maintain its daily operations, tons of food were being ruined by adverse storage conditions and Théroux knew there was little she could do about it. As a non-profit organization, there was no money available to pay for new infrastructure projects. With no end to the problems caused by the building’s slow decrepitude, Théroux began to think only a miracle could begin to solve the food bank’s problems and over the past two years, that’s exactly what happened on the corner of hickmore Street and the Côte de Liesse Road in Ville Saint Laurent.

As the manager and director of Montreal’s CECD (Coalition Energie et Construction Durable), Linda Wilson was looking for a suitable pilot project to demonstrate how new construction methods could improve a commercial building’s ecological footprint and help make it a lot of money by radically shrinking a ICI (Industrial, Commercial, Investment) building’s assorted energy bills. While innovative ‘green’ protocols and building methods are all being incorporated into new construction projects, Wilson was eager to prove how new construction protocols combined with up-to-date heating and air conditioning technology could be used to properly renovate older buildings. During an exclusive interview, Wilson told The Métropolitain three conditions had to be met before the coalition would consider any kind of serious renovation project

“It had to be a non-profit 

organization, the organization had to own its own building and the building had to be in bad shape….really bad shape,” she said. “The Moisson Montréal warehouse was a perfect candidate for this project….especially insofar as the building itself was concerned.”

While Théroux is grateful for everything Wilson has done for the food bank, the Hickmore Street miracle occurred when Wilson began to rally the support she required to properly fix the building. After just a few phone calls, the city’s construction industry immediately began to rally behind Wilson’s project.

“The response was incredible,” said Wilson. “If the CECD had not taken the time to look at this project and the food bank decided to comply with a regular renovation project, the food bank would have been hit with a massive energy bill for both their heating and their cooling facilities. Now we’re going to decrease their energy use by at least 40% which will add up to huge savings and provide a showcase for us to show clients what can be done when they finally decide to renovate their industrial space.”

While work is still being done on the building, a new floor configuration will help improve loading facilities and floor traffic while new insulation along the walls will do a lot to preserve heat within the building. Due to all the work and time being done to renovate the building, the food bank could apply for all the government subsidies it required to buy new machinery which they otherwise could not afford to install. Construction industry executives are especially interested to see how the plant’s new ‘slush’ system will transfer energy from the food bank’s refrigerators into the building’s own air conditioning and heating systems thus creating a single integrated channel for all the heating and cooling energy throughout the building. 

“We have to help the people who need it the most,” said Rhéal Thériault. As a mechanical engineer, he is one of the renovation project’s early supporters and both Wilson and Théroux said nothing could have been done without Thériault’s help. Once he decided to help Wilson out with her project, he managed to convince fellow professionals and assorted plumbing contractors to contribute over $650 000 worth of time and equipment to repair the Moisson Montréal warehouse. As of last week, Theroux said over a hundred construction companies, contractors and other professionals have given or donated over $3.5 million worth of product and services to the ongoing renovation project

“We did everything we could think of to reduce energy consumption,” said Thériault. “As matters stand, we’re sure the food bank will save a minimum of $75 000 every year just in heating costs never mind what it costs to run the freezers and the air conditioning units..” 

Apart from a government subsidy required to pay for the new refrigeration equipment, all of the work done to renovate the warehouse has been offered pro bono because everybody involved knew there is no such thing as a tax receipt for services rendered.

“They did it because they wanted to help out,” said Théroux. “It’s as simple as that.”


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