It is 10 am Sunday morning and there are ten people flitting around my kitchen. There is the sandwich assembly line, the wrappers and the baggers. The final outcome of this hustle and bustle is 150 lunches destined for Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. We are proud of our product. A hearty ham, cheese and roast beef sandwich, a juice box, a banana and two homemade cookies. The piece de résistance is a colourful drawing or inspirational message decorating the outside of the bag. But that is not all. There are also 120 toiletry kits, and bags and bags of clothing. Volunteers, friends or others who support our cause donate everything.
Jenn helping a client find some clothes.
It all started about a year and a half ago with two friends, 40-bagged lunches, a carful of clothes and a trip downtown. East Cordova and Dunlevy to be exact. Jenn and Laurissa are two of the most compassionate people I know. In the past, they had made donations to non-profit organizations and overseas projects, but they were concerned about where the money was going and how it was being used. In actual fact, they wanted a hands-on project, without all the bureaucracy. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their energy knows no bounds. This is something they do after they have put in a full day’s work. They are the catalyst that has prompted others to get involved.
Jenn and Laurissa are now supporting three different projects:
- Lunch on the Street - four times per year.
- The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre – they are always in need of toiletries, clothing, towels, blankets, books, magazines, kitchen equipment, etc.
- Furnishing and outfitting subsidized homes for new recipients, in conjunction with the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and BC Housing.
Our mobile operation.
I, personally, have participated in the last three lunch runs. Each of these trips has made a significant impression on me. There is a strong sense of community on the Downtown Eastside. People care about one another. They look out for one another. One of my most memorable experiences involves a young woman, last February, who was wearing a pair of boots that were about four sizes too big for her. She spotted a pair of boots that we had brought down, tried them on and was ecstatic to report that they were a much better fit. She handed over her old boots and asked us to “give them to someone who needs them.” Wow! I have heard this repeatedly over the last five months. People don’t take more than they need.
The people on the Downtown Eastside are very grateful for our efforts. The thanks we receive are heartfelt. Many have been brought to tears by the messages on our lunch bags. We have seen numerous other groups serving hot meals, but our clients seem to appreciate our bagged lunch. It is something they can take away with them and eat later.
Laurissa with a repeat customer.
My husband and I have made a lot of international donations over the years and we will continue to do so selectively, but there is nothing more fulfilling than making eye contact with the people you are helping. I know many of these people face unimaginable challenges and that our efforts have a limited impact, but in those moments of handing over a bagged lunch, or helping someone find the perfect hoody, there is joy. After three visits, we are starting to see the same faces. A smile and a greeting go a long way. It’s like being reunited with a long lost aunt, uncle or cousin.
We will continue to canvas for donations and cultivate our connections because we believe in what we are doing, and we are richer for these experiences.