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!”
Desmond Tutu

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.

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.2014-10-19 001 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.

2014-10-19 002This 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.

2014-10-19 003I 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.

2014-10-19 006

* 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

Volunteers and donations of good, nutritious food are always welcome, Erin Schulte can be contacted via their facebook page

15 thoughts on “Life on 135A street, or, The little Pop-up Soup Kitchen that could

  1. Laila;

    I work with an organization that delivers household goods and furniture to recent refugee arrivals to Canada. The area you speak of just one block off of the King George Highway is an area we deliver to quite a bit. Many of the apartments near the Whalley Ball Park and Legion are low rent, or as low rent as you can find in Surrey. This is the forgotten part of Surrey that no one has been talking about, until now. And you!

    Thank You

    David Chesney


  2. Thank you for such a heartfelt article. Very glad that you took the time to go and see for yourself what these lovely hearts are doing . How they give back to their community . And how the people of 135a street are people that have a story just like everyone else . We are all cut from the same cloth. Sometimes we just get a little frayed around the edges


    1. Yes, everyone has a story, sometimes they just need a bit of help telling it. I think many people often de-humanize the situation by continually referring to ‘ the homeless’ as if it were a group entity with no individual identity. We are all cut from the same cloth and our frays come in different forms. A lot of great people down there serving, and being served.


  3. Excellent piece Laila. I hope everyone running for public office will read this and comment.

    “The Strip” and its inhabitants is a sad reminder that although we can move people off the main drag of King George, or into another neighbourhood a few miles south, nothing really changes. It’s only a facade. The issues these human beings deal with are still there.
    “Cleaning up” Whalley? Hardly. Moving people from one area to another doesn’t work.
    To be hidden away like this should make us feel very uncomfortable. These are people: parents, siblings, someone’s son or daughter, and they all have a story.
    When my grown son came home from university his summer job was as a shelter worker in Newton. We often had conversations about homelessness and addiction. He said something once that will always stay with me. “Mom, people are afraid of the homeless ” And he wasn’t talking about fearing for their personal safety. It was that seeing up close, someone who was struggling to physically and mentally survive just one more day made us have to confront how miserably we, as a society have failed our fellow man.
    Thank you for letting us know about the tremendous need for more resources, compassion and meaningful action that is needed.


    1. So well said. And I know it’s a very long shot, but honestly instead of talking with ‘stakeholders’ and concerned parties, politicians should actually try talking to the people on the streets. The people I spoke with had very strong ideas about what is working in the area and what isn’t. And surprisingly,they pointed to the drug dealing outside of a local social service agency.

      Instead of cracking down on homeless, it’s time to crack down on the dealers. I had three pointed out to me by different people.


  4. of course they aren’t welcome. Setting up a pop-up food kitchen to serve people economically deprived, reminds everyone what a mess this province/country/city is. When you have people who are from outside the homeless community creating bonds with the homeless, its dangerous. You never know how that might turn out. People tell their friends, its election time. What if some of the homeless were encouraged by non homeless to vote? In low turn outs that could be a problem for politicians. Better to move them all along. Who cares if they are hungry? its their own fault. Just ask Stevie and Christy. Both of these “faith based’ politicians forget what Jesus preached. Lets hope the voters, regardless of their faith or lack thereof, don’t.

    ]Thank you for writing about this subject on Sunday. Now lets make sure the politicians read it.


    1. Bingo – your first couple of lines sums it up exactly. It makes people feel very uncomfortable to see this. I felt horrible that I lived in this city for so long and didn’t know about this street and the people who are there, largely hidden from view as people drive along. And they have come together not because of this soup kitchen ( which is what a local business complained about) but of the need for company and because of other agencies located in the area.

      The people were there long before this wonderful group came along to feed them. It’s just so inspiring to see people just get things done with so much passion and compassion. 🙂


  5. You remind everyone that the single most important trait in all of us is still alive and well.
    “Kindness”, the type that comes into the room unannounced, does it’s best and leaves without fanfare or ego.
    As our civic leaders busy themselves with high profile projects and plans and promises, it is worth our time to ask what can you do better?
    Once you strip away the bravado, candidates for Mayor and Council look pretty ordinary.
    The “who knows who” style and reference to “friends and family” does not include you or me in the main, even though we pay for it with our taxes, time and commitment to our City.

    As we close in on the looming election date in November, it is essential that we vote.

    More importantly, we need to select those candidates that “walk the talk” and live amongst us.
    The platforms offer 3 clear choices.
    We can “relive the past”, we can “endure more of the same” or “we can choose a brighter future”.
    Thank you to all the volunteers at this event.
    You are the best!


    1. Mike,to date, the only politician or political candidate for council/mayor who has acknowledged this piece is Brenda Locke. For all intents and purposes not many want to acknowledge the issues in this area and the failures it brings to light.

      Ironically my paper is running this today, a sad story from Jane Deacon I completely understand the issues of finding an appropriate location for a winter shelter. I get it, having Hyland House in Newton.

      Having so many people living on the streets is not acceptable. Businesses complain about homeless living in empty lots but don’t want a shelter in the area either. Moving the homeless peoples possessions to another area seems to be the preferred method, and that’s not acceptable either, in fact it’s pretty darn cruel to toss someones belongings elsewhere.

      So Mike,I believe in a brighter future, I really do, but when I see candidates steadfastly ignoring this, I wonder how bright it really will be.

      I do however, agree wholeheartedly, this little soup kitchen is the best. Leave the bureaucracy out of it 🙂


  6. Thanks for this Laila, your ability to see and write shine through here and I’m sure the people there appreciated and enjoyed your presence. The bottom line really is that it doesn’t matter if you’re Girard in your article or the president of the united states, all we are, is how we treat and are treated by each other, nothing else.


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