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Surrey soup kitchen thrives despite crackdown

By Jane Deacon

Pop-up soup kitchen put together Christmas gifts for Surrey's homeless. (SUBMITTED)

Pop-up soup kitchen put together Christmas gifts for Surrey's homeless. (SUBMITTED)

A Surrey pop-up soup kitchen is thriving despite a recent city crackdown.

On Sunday, volunteers hosted an outdoor Christmas party with all of the trimmings for 150 people in need, far exceeding organizers’ expectations.

“Sunday was pretty much bigger than anything I could have ever imagined, ever,” said organizer Erin Schulte of the event, which included a turkey dinner, musical performances and wrapped gifts for those who attended.

In February, Schulte began a twice-monthly outdoor soup kitchen for the Whalley neighbourhood.

In October, city bylaw officers and RCMP officers told volunteers they were on private property and contravening city and health regulations as they prepared to serve a Thanksgiving dinner in the Legion parking lot.

Volunteers moved tables onto nearby vacant land and Schulte got a short-term permit from Fraser Health to keep operations going. They now prepare food in the kitchen of a local homeless support agency.

City correspondence obtained through the freedom of information process shows the October enforcement came during a “sweep” of the area – that included eight bylaw officers and eight RCMP – but doesn’t identify the original complaint source.

Schulte said that since completing the permit process the project has had no trouble with the city or RCMP, but she’s disappointed by other recent enforcement on homeless people in the area, including the displacement of several outdoor camps.

“It’s like when you build in a residential area and you cut down trees and you’re like, where are all of these animals going?” she said. “It’s the same thing. You can take their tents away, you can build buildings on their lots that they once lived, but they still have to go somewhere.”

Despite the challenges, what began as a personal initiative funded and undertaken by four friends has since blossomed into an project backed by a pool of over 100 volunteers — something that comes with bittersweet emotions for Schulte.

“It’s a great thing, but when you actually sit back and realize if you don’t show up there, there’s 100 people waiting for you hungry,” she said. “That’s when the reality kicks in. It’s like a snowball going down a hill... Those people are my family now.”

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