Volunteering: Acting Locally, Impacting Globally


Volunteering is an essential pillar of our society, embodying altruism, and commitment to collective well-being. As part of Volunteer Action Week, we spoke with Mr. Gilles Dion, a resident of Le Savignon, who has agreed to share his charitable experience with L’Œuvre Soupe Maison in Lachine.

Mr. Dion, what prompted you to get involved in volunteering?

Honestly, it was Adèle, my wife. When we moved to Le Savignon residence nine years ago, Adèle wanted to get involved in our community. She was a nurse for 42 years, so she knows all about giving back!

As for me, I wasn’t really sure. But then one day, during a bike ride, we passed by la Soupe Maison. Adèle went in, and I followed close behind. Since then, we’ve never left. 9 years at Le Savignon, 9 years at la Soupe Maison!

What is the mission of la Soupe Maison?

L’Œuvre Soupe Maison was established in 1985 and is located at 1170 Notre-Dame Street in Lachine. The organization helps the most vulnerable by providing meals, clothing, and household items directly on-site. A team of 47 dedicated volunteers handles cooking, serving, and providing support. We operate purely from the heart, without receiving any salaries or fees.

Our client base is steadily growing and becoming increasingly diverse. In addition to getting younger, it’s also influenced by economic insecurity; partly due to the employment crisis in Lachine, rising rent prices and the significant influx of refugees. We currently have around 302 registered individuals, many of whom are families with children. They live either in single rooms or public housing. Some are even facing chronic homelessness.

We distribute an average of 3 meals per week to disadvantaged individuals, in addition to the grocery bags we prepare for them once a month. We also have a clothing section that is very popular. We offer a lot of surplus clothing donated by companies, which, despite being discounted, are still of good quality.

We also receive small appliances from certain partners. These contributions come in both financial and material forms. With monetary donations, we purchase useful items such as toasters, microwaves, electric mixers and so on. Nothing is sold—all items are given away free of charge.

Each week, about 135 people visit la Soupe Maison, though this figure may fluctuate based on the time of year or month. Should they have specific needs, we make sure to guide them towards the appropriate organizations. Our mission is to support and empower individuals as much as possible to reintegrate into the workforce, fostering greater autonomy. We’ve already observed a slight improvement in living conditions for some visitors, and we hope this trend continues.

What does volunteering mean to you on a personal level?

It offers a new perspective. I find that sometimes, certain people are self-centred. Volunteering opens our eyes to another side of the world. Our perspective changes when we witness the hardships some people face and realize how fortunate we are to have a roof over our heads and food on our table. While we may understand this intellectually or read about it in the news, it’s through hands-on experience that we truly comprehend it.

Volunteering has taught me to keep an open mind. When we first meet disadvantaged individuals, we don’t know their story, where they come from, or what they’ve been through. All we know is that they’re struggling to survive. As a volunteer, we learn not to judge people at first glance: we welcome them and take care of them as best as we can. We accept them as they are, with respect and empathy.

What types of tasks or responsibilities do you take on as a volunteer?

I’m a member of the Board of Directors for la Soupe Maison and I serve as the head of building maintenance. We operate from September to June and close down for the summer. So my responsibility is to inspect the premises during this break and compile a list of all necessary repairs to ensure the safety of our volunteers when they return in the fall.

As for my wife, she takes care of all aspects of the clothing section. She sorts, organizes and distributes clothes and other household items. She also decorates the storefront window facing the street according to the seasons. Besides adding colour and cheer, it gives us greater visibility because people stop to admire the display, especially families. It encourages them to come in and see what we’re about, and we’re always happy to talk with them!

We work at la Soupe Maison every Thursday. The rest of the week, we tidy up the premises and organize for the following week.

What do you enjoy most about your volunteer work?

Oh, that’s a simple question: I love seeing people leave feeling happier and more at peace than when they arrived. It means we’ve somehow managed to provide them with something they needed. Whether it’s a nice meal, new clothes or even just chatting, I can tell you, it makes all the difference. For us too, it’s nice to share a moment of comfort with them. People’s smiles… that’s our reward in the end.

In your view, what impact does your volunteering have on the community?

It’s not so much my volunteer work, but rather that of la Soupe Maison in general. When we see that the social assistance benefit for a single person is $800/month and $1,200/month for a couple, we wonder how anyone can get by on so little. It’s not much of a life, and that’s precisely why la Soupe Maison exists.

We offer assistance to these individuals, taking the time to get to know them, building a relationship of trust, and, most importantly, treating them as fellow human beings. Our aim is to help them improve their circumstances, but more importantly, to provide them with the support they need to get back on their feet and reintegrate into society.

Are other residents of Le Savignon involved with you at la Soupe Maison?

We gladly welcome new volunteers, whether they’re from Le Savignon or elsewhere. Typically, people who want to get involved come in according to their schedules and lend a hand when they can. If they don’t have the time but still want to contribute, we encourage them to make donations.

At Le Savignon, we have a large green bin where we gather items that residents no longer need. We encourage them to donate, rather than just throwing things away. We collect everything, sort through it, and keep about 85% of the clothing and dishware.

Any advice for those wishing to volunteer but don’t know where or how to start?

Volunteering opportunities are everywhere. You just have to look and ask. And the only way to know if you’ll like it, is to try. There are so many different ways to contribute that you’ll surely find something that suits you. Look at me: I wasn’t sure if I wanted to volunteer because I didn’t know what I could offer society. Human contact touched me deeply and that was it!

I strongly encourage people to get involved with their community, as society truly relies on generosity and cooperation.

At la Soupe Maison, most of us are retirees, but it’s a pleasure to welcome or recommend younger people because everyone has something to offer, even if it’s just for a few hours. For instance, one of the board members—who is an engineer—dedicates his time to cleaning on weekends. Happiness lies in the little things… including volunteering!

What are the next projects in store for la Soupe Maison?

With la Soupe Maison experiencing significant growth recently, we’re considering acquiring a new building. The board aims to raise $2.5 million to be able to feed 120 people… comfortably indoors. Since the pandemic, we’ve been operating outdoors, so we want to welcome people into a larger building, sheltered from the elements, and offer more services all in one place.

We’ve also partnered with the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board to organize classes aimed at helping individuals acquire new skills like reading, writing or earning their high school diplomas. Additionally, we’re considering opening a grocery store and a kitchen lab to teach cooking skills, preparing people for employment in the culinary industry. On top of that, we already have a dentist interested in offering free basic dental care on-site!

We’re currently in the process of securing our fundraising campaign plan, and we’re setting a three-year timeline to achieve our goals. It’s a bold challenge, but one we’re determined to meet!

Thank you for sharing this insightful account with us, Mr. Dion. Your commitment is a true inspiration for each of us. It’s because of individuals like you that volunteering continues to thrive. We wish you continued success with L’Œuvre Soupe Maison and look forward to your ongoing positive impact on the community.