Montreal ‘Meals Pirate’ feeds a whole lot to the east of the town proper on its doorstep

Up to 300 people visit Raïs Zaidi’s house in eastern Montreal three nights a week.

“My place in front of my house is now better known,” said Zaidi, who can often be seen with a battered three-cornered hat on his long dreadlocks.

“The whole neighborhood knows about it.”

Zaidi is called “Le Pirate Vert” or “Food Pirate” in English. Together with his partner, he devotes himself to feeding the needy and not only works with non-profit organizations, but also alone – he is setting up a food distribution station in front of his house on Dézéry Street in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, which has gained popularity in recent months.

“I give excess food to those who need it for free,” he said.

He collects donations from food banks, grocers, and grocery stores across the Montreal area. He visits some companies and organizations regularly, but only visits others when they contact him to offer overstock or goods that are about to expire.

“Usually we get enough to fill a small cube-type truck,” said Zaidi. “There could be weeks where we could get pallets of things. We could get 50 boxes of green peppers.”

But what he collects is varied and it’s hit-and-miss. He gets everything from hygiene products to fresh fruit to canned food. Sometimes his collection falls short, sometimes he is overwhelmed by donations.

From dumpster diving to trucking around town

Zaidi started out as a dumpster diver in 2011 and that’s when he realized how much food is thrown away.

He later found out about a food bank in the West End which, once its members have been fed, throws away their excess groceries.

Zaidi decided it was time to take action. He started building a network of donors in and around Montreal. He and his partner drive far and wide to load their van and bring it back to Zaidi’s apartment to give away the food.

At first his neighbors were suspicious of all the people who came by to get food. But at some point they realized that it was for a good cause, says Zaidi, and now some of them are tackling.

Many Montreal organizations have groceries to give away, he says, but not everyone can afford to travel to every location. So he acts as a middleman and ensures that those in need are taken care of.

“We’re trying to fill the missing gap between those who have to give the food and those who want it,” he said.

Before the pandemic broke out, he says most of the people using his service were from the area.

Raïs Zaidi, right, loads a cube with excess inventory at the Banque Alimentaire d’Anjou. (Sharon Yonan-Renold / CBC)

However, after nearly a year of public health restrictions that paralyzed parts of the province’s economy, zaidi is seeing a sharp surge in demand.

“More and more people from all over town are writing to me, ‘Oh, how does it work? Do I have to live nearby? Can I pick it up? ‘”Said Zaidi.

“Every two days someone comes to write or ask.

People come by car, others on foot, he says. They’re all ages, and it’s hard to tell why they’re looking for food just by looking at them, he says. He does not judge, but assumes that they are there because they need food.

Zaidi only asks that no one hoards what he has to offer.

Donations have declined since the holidays, but Zaidi and his partner are doing everything they can to provide food for those in need.

So that nothing is wasted, even with blackboards

Serge Gingras, who works as the logistics coordinator at Banque Alimentaire d’Anjou, said Zaidi’s efforts are helping to ensure that no food is thrown away.

“It is important for us not to waste anything,” said Gringas. “If we can help these people, that’s great.”

Gringas said the food bank was receiving large quantities of food and filling emergency baskets. Everything that is left is picked up by Zaidi and his partner.

Food aid is needed in the community because of the high demand, says Gringas. There’s a need for food donations and volunteers, he says.

“If you don’t know what to do with your life because it’s a pandemic, try volunteering,” Gringas said, noting that he started out as a volunteer before becoming a staff member.

“Volunteering is good for your health.”

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