Life on 135A street, or, The little Pop-up Soup Kitchen that could
“Compassion is not just feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation. Frequently people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action!”
The story last week that bylaw officers from the city of Surrey had told a group of volunteers who have been running a pop up soup kitchen on 135A street every other Sunday they weren’t welcome anymore, left many with a bad taste in their mouths, including myself. http://globalnews.ca/news/1617246/organizers-of-surrey-soup-kitchen-given-the-cold-shoulder-over-thanksgiving-weekend/
I’m ashamed that I only recently discovered this little strip of Surrey after being told about it by a reader, who said what was happening on King George in Whalley was nothing in comparison to what happens a block away.
Hidden from public view, the people of 135A street left an impression on me the first time I travelled the short couple of blocks that is essentially Surrey’s smaller DTES. As you turn off 108th avenue and head south, the first thing you see is a stunningly beautiful Ukrainian church to the right. Pristine and respected, it stands sentinel as though watching over those that call the sidewalks home, despite the appearances all have been abandoned by any higher power.
People are everywhere among these streets.
There is a small tent city in one empty lot at the end of that strip of 135A, and the sidewalks have a tent or two as well. A drive around the area that also houses the BC Lions facility, a recreational centre and the Legion will show you the harsh realities of many peoples lives – sleeping under trees, plastic bags housing all their worldly possessions… it’s a reality many don’t want to-or can’t- confront.
The juxtaposition between this world and the architectural jewel of Central City rising in the sky mere blocks away, is stark.
I contacted Erin Schulte, the organizer of Pop up Soup Kitchen, to commend her on her work following the Global story. She invited me down today and so I arrived with a case of apples knowing they provide good pocket food to carry along in ones bag or jacket when the food is gone.
I went looking for answers, but left with my heart full of emotions from the experience, the people I met and those who shared some of their stories.
Some were homeless, some were not.
Some were clearly and admittedly struggling with addictions, but many were not.
I met a former rampie who used to work at Vancouver airport, a former construction worker who was injured and left on disability ( not a workplace accident). They shared some stories with me and I look forward to more. The conversation was quick,witty and full of insight, peppered with a heaping dose of reality.
Everyone was exceptionally polite and incredibly grateful for the hot nutritious food on the very long tables set up. This isn’t the typical, very basic kind of soup kitchen fare being served by far.Erin has a policy that she wouldn’t serve anything she wouldn’t serve her own family and you can see the tremendous effort everyone put into presenting food that is not only nutritious, but beautiful as well.
Salads, roasted meat, casseroles, the aromas were not only satisfying for the stomach but food for the soul as well. Gloves are worn for service, hair is kept back, everyone wears a name tag and clearly the volunteers are all loved by the locals. many who have become regulars.
This fellow simply couldn’t stand anymore, and flopped down on the grass, I stood in line to bring him his food, another volunteer gave him a blanket. People take care of each other here. He and his companion sat and ate together – she was most gracious to everyone, although as hard as I tried, I never saw her eyes because she never looked up.
Soft spoken, there was defeat in her rounded shoulders, a tentativeness about her that one finds with those who have learned being quiet means no harassment, no abuse. Both ate slowly, savouring every bite.
This touching scene was repeated all over the empty lot where Erin and her team now set up.
I talked with these gentlemen for a bit, Girard is in the middle with his fork in the air. He lived in Prince George for a while years ago which resulted in a lively conversation about prairie chickens and the war plane left abandoned in a lake up there- that’s an entirely separate blog post!
Girard unfortunately has no bottom teeth and was terribly sad he couldn’t eat an apple so I promised next time that I would bring some already cut up for him and others in a similar situation. When you have good teeth,you often forget there are many who don’t have the same luxury. Just thinking about Girard makes me smile now. Simply click on the photos below to see them in a larger format.
I don’t have all the solutions for homelessness and poverty: some people make choices in life that lead down this path, many do not. I met some of both today. What I do know is that feeding people without judgement of choice or circumstance isn’t a bad thing – it’s the right thing.
I learned who the local dealers were, driving fairly nice cars – one showed up to eat- and what’s not working in the area.It’s a tough place where a lot of violence still happens. I have been told by several people that bylaw officers have been moving some street people’s possessions and moving them along, ‘sweeping’ the area-hardly a solution to what ails this area.
I talked to a young guy the same age as my eldest son-21- who’s into hard drugs. He told me he see’s people start to walk down this street and then turn around because they are afraid.
“Of what?” I ask.
“Ha.Reality. They don’t want to see this.” Truer words were never spoken, but let me share this:I never once felt unsafe in the midst of all these street people during this food service, in fact I was embraced as all the long time volunteers clearly are.
They are loved. There was no feeling of despair immediately evident- this bi-weekly meal, served by those whose compassion spurred them to action- is an act of community, of coming together, of being able to simply do something for someone else because you can.
And by the grace of something wonderful, the storm held off and the sun shone and at least for a while everyone had full stomachs, warm companionship and a dry place to sit and relax. I would say upwards of a hundred people were served today.
Some people,when confronted with a difficult reality, turn and run in the face of such overwhelming obstacles. Others do what they can, with what they have.
This is what they look like.
* Everything served is either paid for by the volunteers themselves or donated. They are looking for a couple pop-up tents to shelter the food with fall and winter weather coming. There is a go fund me page that hasn’t been utilized much but would greatly help offset costs http://www.gofundme.com/9qc7ks
Volunteers and donations of good, nutritious food are always welcome, Erin Schulte can be contacted via their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/695846520466061/