For her, the idea was an obvious way to combine her love for animals and her compassion for the homeless population of Montreal. The idea was simple to execute, convenient for both herself and those who participated, and most of all, it addressed a very real need that she is passionate about.
Meet Camille Rancourt. She graduated from the Women’s Studies program at McGill in 2016 and is now pursuing a Master’s in Quebec City. However, she still spends a fair amount of time in Montreal, which is where she lives. She operates her own greeting card business, and for her, social entrepreneurship is very dear to her. “The two causes that I’m passionate about are animals and the homeless”, she tells me.
In the last few weeks, Camille has been actively advertising on her social media channels about her “collecte”, a clothing drive in which she offers to pick up the donations from a convenient location, and then organizes and delivers to local homeless shelters, such as Chez Doris. In return, she is offering the clothing donors a free card from her own line of greeting cards, Fat Cat Greetings. “On social media, I read that some homeless shelters in Montreal are in need of warm Winter clothes … I’ve been advertising on Facebook and in Free & For Sale to offer to collect warm clothing that people would like to donate”, Camille says, “If people are interested, they’ll DM me, we’ll pick a time and location for the pick-up, and then I go to pick it up. It’s been working really well.” Camille explains that since it’s the turn of the season, many people are purchasing new Winter wear. It’s the perfect time to look through your closets and identify any items that you won’t need anymore, pack them up, and donate them. “I’ve collected warm Winter coats, boots, and blankets too since some of the homeless have pets with them too”.
For me, it was incredibly inspiring to see how Camille was directly translating her passions into concrete, real-life actions. However, for Camille, it was just an obvious thing to do. She’s been pursuing her passions openly and directly for a while. When it comes to her greeting card company, she explains that it started out with her mom, who liked to collect greeting cards. Consequently, Camille grew up liking to collect greeting cards as well. Since it was something that she liked to do, she tried designing one herself and printing it out at home. She put her designs on Etsy and received a good response. As Camille described to me the unique features of her business, it became more and more obvious to me just how much thought she has put into this business. Aside from animals and the homeless, Camille is also concerned about the environment. Therefore, she makes sure to purchase the paper for her cards locally, the envelopes are made from recycled materials, and the plastic sleeves that her cards come in are plant-sourced and biodegradable. The icing on the cake is that 15% of the revenue she makes from the cards goes toward supporting local cat shelters. “It’s something I started for fun, so it’s not like my main source of income, but it’s great that I get to do what I like and also contribute to the causes I love at the same time”, Camille says.
I asked Camille how she first got involved with helping the homeless community in Montreal. She describes to me her earlier experiences with volunteering at homeless shelters while she was in CEGEP and in her undergraduate years. “My Aunt used to be the president of Chez Doris, a homeless shelter for women, and every year they had a silent auction. When I was in CEGEP, I had a cupcake company, and I would donate cupcakes for the event … I’ve also volunteered at a men’s shelter with my sorority, and really, the people there are just looking for someone to spend time with”, Camille explains. “I came from a sheltered background with few hardships. The least I could do is to help out in this way”.
Camille went on to describe a magazine that she likes to read, called L’Itinéraire, which publishes pieces written by the homeless. “I think it’s great because it’s a way for them to earn money for themselves … it’s a way for them to help themselves. The magazine is super interesting too,” Camille says. She also shared a little bit about what she’s learned about the homeless situation in Montreal. “I learned that a large population of the homeless community is mentally ill and/or elderly, and it breaks my heart that these are the people who are on the streets. A lot of them arrived in the situation they’re currently in because of circumstances that were out of their control. A lot of them experienced trauma. Yet they still have pride, they still have the thought that it can get better for them.” Camille stressed that it “really tugs at [her] heart” when she thinks that anyone could be homeless. “It’s nothing that you can control on your own, and sometimes you need a helping hand to get out of that situation. I would really like to be that helping hand.”
Another thing that Camille emphasized throughout our chat was the importance of remembering that those who are homeless are normal people, just like the rest of us. They have emotions, they have goals. Camille described to me a video that she watched in which a wealthy businessman partook in a social experiment. He was dressed to make him look like he was homeless. After the experiment, he stated that feeling like he was invisible was perhaps the worst part of his experience. Loneliness can be extremely hard for the homeless community when thousands of passersby choose to ignore or avoid their existence. “In Westmount, where I used to live, there were a few homeless people who would always be on the same corner. One time, the local newspaper actually interviewed them for an article. It was cool of them to reach out to them, and to acknowledge that they were there”, Camille tells me, “It makes a huge difference to acknowledge their existence, to treat those who are homeless like a human being.”
I asked Camille if she has any role models, or if there was anyone who inspired her, to which she responded, “Can Denmark be a role model?” She explained that in Denmark, “they put the welfare of the entire population before each individual’s own welfare, so there’s a communal sense of taking care of each other”. The benefits of such a system are numerous. “They’re incredibly environmentally friendly, their bicycle system is a lot better than ours, education is free, and shelters, daycares, and hospitals all use local and organic ingredients to prepare their meals (everything is grown in-house)”. In Denmark, it seems that the results of the taxes that the people pay are much more obvious. “No wonder it’s one of the happiest nations in the world every year,” Camille concludes. When I asked her about Montreal in comparison, she replies, “I think Montreal is making progress though, especially with our new mayor … I think Montreal is evolving to become a more socially conscious city. We’re thinking more about the environment, about immigration policies, and things like that.”
Do you have something to donate? Support Camille’s clothing drive efforts by reaching out to her on Facebook! Camille will be collecting clothing articles for the next month or so, so let’s help her keep the homeless community of Montreal warm this Winter. Make sure to give Fat Cat Greetings some love too!
Images were provided by the interviewee and the author of the article.