On Nov. 19th, members of UBC HOPE Club went to the Vancouver Downtown Eastside to hand out food packages and take to opportunity to chat with members of our community. It was a clear but brisk day. With backpacks full of packed meals, my partners and I walked down East Cordova and Princess Avenue and we spotted some sort of distribution at Oppenheimer Park. We decided to not compete with them, but instead go down Granville Street where we have seen a few regulars there before. We approached a man in his early 30s sitting at the corner of Granville and Robson on what seems to be a bucket. He was holding up a sign which said, “Hungry anything helps,” and has several layers of clothing on him. He graciously accepted the food package, and was happy to chat with us, even with his minimal English skills. Originally from Quebec, Pascal had been living in this area for only a month. He first moved to Fort McMurray, Alberta to work as an operator but was laid off because of the fire. Then Pascal moved to the West Coast, hoping for a better life and warmer winters. Only a month ago, his building burned down and unfortunately he lost all his possessions. Due to the unaffordable high rent and low wages he received, Pascal didn’t have enough to support his daily basic needs. That was as far as our conversation could get because of our lack of French and his lack of English. In that short time, I learned to be thankful for everything and for the opportunity I received to engage in these conversations. It is hard to understand the realities these people face each day, and in Pascal’s case, it was just a series of unfortunate events.
Throughout Warmth of Winter I realized we often forget how privileged we are to live in one of the best and most expensive cities in the world. During the Christmas season it is heartbreaking how people can spend hundreds of dollars at a store and right outside there is someone very cold and hungry. We all deserve to be happy especially during the holidays. Many of the people who live there have signs which say “hungry” or “anything helps”. It was an eye-opening experience to come on this initiative. Even though I am in high school, I am thankful that there are groups like UBC HOPE that are willing to mentor and guide someone like me. The next time I go downtown to shop or eat, I will bring along food to hand out. It isn’t hard to pack sandwiches and it is such a small act to help someone survive. It is the least I could do and I can also be a familiar face as many of them don’t have family around. Perhaps the next time Warmth of Winter happens, they will be more willing to open up about their story.