DTES dinner builds community, hope 0
Downtown Eastside residents enjoy Thanksgiving meal at the Union Gospel Mission. (CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 HOURS)
The smiles were warm on a wet Monday at the Union Gospel Mission, where an expected 3,000 people were treated to a Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the trimmings.
"When you're face to face with someone who has very little and they're still thankful, that's when something clicks in my heart," said UGM spokesman Derek Weiss of those who came for the meal.
The dinner kicked off Vancouver's sixth Homelessness Action Week, a weeklong event aimed at raising awareness about homelessness in the region. Other events include a discussion panel and a comedy fundraiser.
"These are terrific people that are finding themselves in a place where they would never imagine," said UGM president Bill Mollard of the Downtown Eastside. "I wish people understood that nobody chooses addiction. Nobody chooses to be homeless."
The dinner was the first holiday meal served in the UGM's renovated building opened in April. Jonathan Hall, who was there for the meal, said the event was about more than just a quick bite.
"This thing is about building a community and reaching out. If it brings notice to the homeless population in Vancouver all the better," he said. "I see people bonding, having a family atmosphere. It's important."
According to Mollard, some of the volunteers first encountered UGM at last year's dinner. A few have since completed the drug and alcohol recovery program.
"(The DTES) is almost defined by its struggles as much as its victories," he said.
Carl Martin is one such victory. When he first arrived in the DTES a decade ago, a friend took him to all the places where he could find free hot meals.
"It was always drugs, alcohol. I was always scrambling to eat," Martin said, adding he was addicted to crack and found himself in questionable circles.
On Monday, however, Martin helped prepare dinner. The 49-year-old enrolled in UGM's recovery program almost two years ago and has been sober ever since. He is now president of the program's alumni association and works in shipping and receiving at the mission.
"The first time I walked in they wanted to know my name. They want you to be a part of the family," he said. "That's why I work here now."
Martin admits if he hadn't checked into the program, he likely would be dead.
"But there's a lot of people out there who want to help so there's a lot of hope."