Out Of The Cold
It’s 5PM on Thursday, and even though I’m early, I can still get in. I know what to expect because I’ve been here many times before. But for those who haven’t been here before … here are some of the main points.
The crowd is a mix of homeless and marginalized people, men and women, young and old (tonight there are several families with 2 and 3 year old children – I’ve even seen some as young as 1 week old), volunteers (both first time and regular) and just plain recipients.
The doors usually open at 6PM, but volunteers can get in earlier, and if it’s extremely cold outside, no-one will be asked to wait out in the cold.
Even though this event takes place in a church and is sponsored by that church, no-one “preaches” at anyone else, and no prayer is forced on the people being served. The volunteers do offer up a brief prayer earlier on when they first get started. And if anyone asks, the core group of workers will explain the reason why they do what they do. Every one’s main focus, however, is on serving all comers with love and respect.
Tonight dinner is served earlier than usual (it’s usually served around 8PM but tonight – Christmas eve – it’s being served around 6:30 as the church is having a Christmas Eve service upstairs at 7:30 for anyone who is interested).
The dinner is always plentiful, nutritious, and very tasty. Tonight it consists of roasted ham, roasted vegetables, a special roasted vegetables with tofu dish for vegetarians, spinach salad, and a wonderfully moist cake with whipped cream topping. To drink there is coffee, tea (including a herbal tea and regular tea), hot apple cider, and juice.
Tables with chairs are set up before the “guests” arrive. Each table has a number on it. People can sit where ever they like, but they are asked not to add additional chairs to tables. When the food is served, numbers are randomly picked from a container and the table with the number called can go up top be served. If there are special dietary needs and the main cook has been informed, every effort is made to accommodate those special needs. Once everyone has had a serving, if there are left-overs, people can come back for seconds.
The “rules” are simple. Treat everyone else with respect, and wait your turn (the numbers are called randomly – everyone will get a turn).
During the dinner itself tonight, gift bags are distributed to all who are here. There have been times when during the dinner there have been public health nurses available to address health issues. Just like during a family meal family members are encourage to share what has taken place during their day, there are volunteers who are willing to listen to people who just need a friendly ear to hear what is going on in their lives.
After the meal, more volunteers do the dishes, clean the floors, put away the tables and chairs, and take out the garbage. Then around 9:30, during the fall, winter, and early spring, those who are homeless and need a place to sleep (and who have signed up for it) can sleep overnight. There are mattresses, blanket, and pillows available that get cleaned after every use. And for every sleep-over, there are 2 volunteers who stay up overnight so everyone else can sleep safely knowing that someone is watching over them.
I realize that I have used the word volunteers a lot in this blog. That is because of all the people involved in putting on this weekly event, only ONE of them gets paid for doing this work. All the rest ARE volunteers! Also, a portion of the food used each week is donated by local businesses. There is absolutely NO CHARGE to anyone for the food or the overnight stay. Any items purchased are purchased using donations earmarked for Out Of The Cold.
That is the name for this weekly event. Out Of The Cold. The church that sponsors this event is Grandview Calvary Baptist Church (their website is http://www.gcbchurch.ca/index.php), and they are located in the Commercial Drive area of east Vancouver. On average, they feed 130 people every week, with up to 30 people sleeping over. They have been doing this for well over 10 years already, and they have many other programs that have grown out of this weekly event.
They have consistently impressed me with their attitude towards the disenfranchised. They have an attitude of respect and caring. They do not have an attitude of superiority, of “We’re better than you so you better listen to us and do what we say”. Rather, they approach this with an attitude of “there but for God’s grace go I”.
If you live in the Greater Vancouver area, and have time to volunteer, or if you have money (or fresh produce, meat, or other food) that you wish to donate somewhere, this is an excellent place to do so. This is the kind of event that I feel addresses a specific need for the homeless (whether street kids or older), and does so without robbing them of their dignity. We need more places like this, doing this kind of good work on a daily basis (the only draw-back in my opinion is that Out Of The Cold is only once a week).
If you know of other places that have similar programs, let me know. I will do my best to research them and will then write about them in my blog.
Till next time!