15 ways to help Vancouver’s homeless and hungry that don’t involve sandwich tokens

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock this fall, you’ve heard a lot about a certain Downtown Eastside diner and its famous sandwich tokens. In the lead-up to its second appearance on reality TV, Save-On-Meats was lauded for its new meal token program by politicians, fashion designers, TV news anchors, bloggers, and seemingly everybody on Facebook and Twitter—though there was certainly grumbling from activists.

However you feel about Save-On-Meats’ entrepreneurial solution for people who don’t want to give money to panhandlers, we can all agree it’s neither the first nor the only effort aimed at helping homeless and hungry people in Vancouver. Here’s 15 “non-token” ways you can make a difference this holiday season—and, more importantly, all year long.

1. Donate money to the food bank

Whether we’re talking about the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society or the Surrey Food Bank Society, the most effectively way to contribute to your local food bank is by giving cash. The Greater Vancouver Food Bank says it can turn $1 in donations into $3 of groceries.

2. Volunteer at a homeless shelter

Instead of complaining about the nearest homeless shelter, why not spend some time helping out? You can find a big list of shelters—from North Vancouver to Langley—on the Greater Vancouver Shelter Strategy website.

3. Make and hand out care packages to people on the street

Wondering what to put in a care package? Vancouver resident Sheryl Kristie Yen and her friends are buying and gathering socks, gloves, scarves, ponchos, and toques. As part of “Operation Cozy Christmas”, they’re planning to bundle up these clothes with some holiday treats, and then give them out on Christmas Eve.

4. Donate gifts for women and children to the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre

Every year, the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre puts on a Christmas dinner as well as Christmas and New Year’s breakfasts. The centre is looking for donations of new unwrapped gifts to pass on to women and children of the neighbourhood. The wish list includes gift certificates, blankets, towels, thermal underwear, toiletries, toys, and candy.

5. Give clothes to First United Church

There are a lot of ways to give to First United Church, which runs a low-barrier shelter in the Downtown Eastside and offers meal, foot care, storage, dental, and many other services. You can contribute property and securities and even bequeath your estate to the church. But right now, the shelter needs donations of underwear and casual pants and shoes.

6. Stuff stockings for CIAO:Van

CIAO:Van stands for “Christmas Inside and Out Vancouver”. Although its website bears the logos of several corporate sponsors, the group still needs donations of gloves, scarves, socks, toques, toothpaste, toothbrushes, lip balm, brushes, and candy canes to fill the stockings it will give out in the Downtown Eastside on Christmas Eve. CIAO:Van could also use some help making and stuffing stockings.

7. Volunteer at Covenant House Vancouver

If you want to help homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth, consider giving some of your time to Covenant House Vancouver. The charity has a crisis shelter, transition house, and other programs. Volunteers are needed for a range of roles, including administrative support, shelter support, and food services.

8. Contribute auction items to A Loving Spoonful

A Loving Spoonful delivers free, healthy meals to people living with HIV/AIDS in Metro Vancouver. Every year, the nonprofit society holds two fundraising events which rely on donations of prizes and silent auction items. Art, pottery, jewelry, designer clothing, and gift certificates are among the needed items.

9. Provide a rent subsidy through the Lookout Emergency Aid Society

Want to help keep someone from becoming homeless? You can provide a rent subsidy of $75 to $300 per month through the Lookout Emergency Aid Society. This kind of financial assistance makes it possible for people to find affordable housing outside of the Downtown Eastside.

10. Volunteer with the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society

The Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society is dedicated to serving the urban aboriginal community, which is over-represented among the homeless population. VAFCS requires volunteers for its various programs, which help youth, adults, and elders.

11. Donate surplus food from your business to Quest Food Exchange

Described as “British Columbia’s largest not-for-profit food exchange program”, Quest Food Exchange takes surplus food from local restaurants, supermarkets, and wholesalers and redistributes it to people in need. Quest runs three not-for-profit grocery markets and partners with social service agencies. If you’re a local food vendor, why not donate food to Quest that would otherwise be going to waste?

12. Give to WISH Drop-In Centre Society

Operated by women, WISH Drop-In Centre Society works to meet the basic needs of female survival sex workers. Its services include meals, showers, safety warnings, and street nurses. A $20 donation will cover Christmas dinner for four people at WISH. You can give money by mail or online.

13. Contribute to the expansion of Powell Place

The St. James Community Service Society is raising funds to expand and upgrade Powell Place. That’s an emergency shelter for women in the Downtown Eastside. The plan is to double the shelter’s capacity from 26 to 52 beds. If you donate more than $500, you could have part of Powell Place named after you.

14. Add your voice to the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition’s call

Representing dozens of organizations, the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition is urging the provincial government to appoint a minister for poverty reduction and put poverty reduction targets and timelines in legislation. “We know that BC is falling behind. All but 3 provinces either have poverty reduction plans or are in the process of adopting them, and the success of these plans is already clear across Canada,” the coalition’s call states. The coalition wants to see B.C.’s poverty rate reduced by 30 percent within four years and all homelessness ended within eight years.

15. Tell your MLA to raise welfare rates

Raise the Rates organized Jagrup Brar’s MLA Welfare Challenge and the recent Welfare Food Challenge. The coalition suggests individuals concerned about poverty and homeless meet with their local MLAs and put pressure on them to increase welfare rates, get more social housing built, and up the minimum wage to $12 an hour.

(Part of this list was crowd-sourced via Twitter. A big thank-you to the following people who shared their recommendations with me, whether I used them or not: @LindsEarle, @divajeanine, @the99tweets, @sherylkyen, @myra_mc, @RoseofEurope, @EminenceOrganic, @DeeWuu, @CIAOVancouver, @yolandecole@Museumofvan, @Pedrosplaything, and @rfoodss.)

Are you donating to charity this holiday season?

Yes 68%
54 votes
No 32%
25 votes
Comments (19) Add New Comment
this list is like so cool. I LOVEEE to help the homeless but it is so lame to help homeless people the same way as other people, you know? I should totally tweet this great list.
Rating: -47
Almost a good list
Raise welfare rates? GIVE ME A BREAK!!
Rating: -29
teth adam
What's wrong with sandwich tokens? The poor and hungry are being fed. Most people won't give homeless people money for fear of them spending it on drugs. Methinks the writer of this article has a beef against Save-On-Meats, who he considers an evil gentrifier of the downtown Eastside.

These "activists" are telling us we have to help the poor/homeless and now they want to control how we do it? Considering the current state of the downtown Eastside, it is clear their efforts to date have been a resounding success!

I think Mark Brand's Save-On-Meats has done more for the downtown Eastside and the people in it than many these "activists" ever have.

Rating: +16
Jack Jardine
How about shopping at the Pigeon Park Sunday Street Market, where up to 150 DTES residents participate directly in the Canadian Economy. These enterprising binners and street vendors generate $10,000 in trade every Sunday. The market puts over $500,000 into the DTES economy. Do more than give a hand-out - get a great deal, and build the local economy. Visit the Intercultural Artists Tent, get fresh Bannock. Have a bit of fun, then visit a local restaurant.
Rating: +8
"oh god, we're so hungry! we need food! why won't you help the homeless!!"

"okay, here's a token system to get you some sandwiches. Save On Meats is winning all sorts of praise with their food, by the way. Enjoy."

"but.. these tokens aren't money. I can't sneak away and spend it on drugs & booze instead of food once you leave..."

"yeah, that's the point."

"omg, this is an injustice! we're going to make this a controversy!"
Rating: -17
Justin S.
90% of the suggestions here are band aid solutions. Yes it's good to help these organizations, but they are all reactionary services.

Why don't we try looking at some of the root causes of homelessness and addictions and pressure our government to properly fund mental health programs, addictions programs (like not shutting down the rainier treatment centre) and social housing.
Rating: +31
How about taking some of the property tax dollars and gas tax $ to build some proper homes for homeless folks, as long as they have some sort of employment... could be anything. Win/win.
Rating: +9
The Povertarian industry that sucks $1 million/day out of the DTES doesn't want any solutions that they don't control and financially benefit from. The save On Meats sandwich token idea is brilliant. Imagine if other DTES businesses did similar things? Creative solutions from the private sector are EXACTLY what the DTES needs. How can anything that encourages more people to help feed the homeless be bad in any way? Shame on the author of the article for being a mouthpiece for the leeches who make their living off maintaining poverty in the TDES!
Rating: +11
Agree with Justin S. - social housing is especially crucial and we need to be leaning on government. What we don't spend on housing we end up spending on homelessness - a study done for the BC government about 10 years ago showed that it costs $30,000 to $40,000 per year for service and shelter costs for someone to be homeless, versus $22,000 to $28,000 for housed individuals (former homeless people now in social housing).
Rating: +16
Real Solutions?
How about some kind of program that is not all about hand-outs: individuals actually enrolling & commiting, kicking drugs/addictions & getting healthy, getting useful employment training & out in the workforce, getting homes & back on your feet?! THIS I would donate to ...
So tired of these band-aid solutions ... ever heard the saying "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime"?!
The poverty pimps have far too much stock in this game.
Rating: +12
First United Church
Thank you for helping to spread the word about the different ways people in Vancouver can help. Thank you also to the many people in our city who give so generously in so many different ways.
If you don't have a home, the offer of warm winter clothes, water proof jackets, socks, a nutritious meal... these things can make a profound difference.
At this time of year, we are always needing donations of socks, gloves, underwear, warm pants and jackets. Or mandarin oranges, if you're looking to donate something seasonal and healthy. www.firstunited.ca
Rating: -3
Mr Cream
Libby Davies should take in the homeless, after all she's been voted the best politician by the Straight readers. Just saying
Rating: -3
the rent subsidy is a good idea, i didn't even know that existed and i've lived in the dtes for 10yrs. i would've donated earlier.

@Real Solutions?

none of these people are going to get employment are you insane. who will hire them: nobody. oh hey, i was a drug addict for 10yrs can i have a job, here's my resume with a big giant fucking empty hole in it. also can i have my paycheck up front so I can afford to eat and buy clothes to work here? btw i have a massive criminal record and won't pass a credit check.

you should see the insanity that goes on here, and i'm not talking about the junkies. i'm talking about every single religious nut infesting the area to get converts. all sorts of weirdo christmas cults infest the streets and alleys every december PREYING ON THE MENTALLY ILL. great job thanks. please don't give them any more delusions it's already dangerous enough down here.

there are no poverty pimps here. you wouldn't hire these people in a million years either so take your phony, trite, greeting card slogans and fuck yourself. btw merry christmas, from the DTES

Rating: -9
joe blow
The only thing anyone should be given is the tools to empower themself. The rest is entirely up to you. Survival of the fittest, always has been, always will be.
Rating: +2
Handouts encourage homeless from all parts of Canada to settle in Vancouver. Why wouldn't they come to the Vancouver resort? We need more support services (addiction,temporary housing,temporary food, etc) to get these people back in the workforce.If everything is free and permanent, why wouldn't everyone chose a work free lifestyle on the backs of the working class?
Rating: -10
WOW! why wouldn't anyone have thought of a program to get all these lazy people back on their feet and back to work? it would be AMAZING if this problem that was as fixable as just teaching individuals a life skill, setting them up with a job and letting them be on their way to being a productive member of society. what a fucking dream that would be!

anyone and everyone here that thinks that the dtes homeless problem is as little as individuals being unmotivated and looking for a free handout are uneducated, ignorant, and lacking empathy to the nth degree. there is so much more going on down there that requires long term care alongside of short-term fixes. ANYTHING we can do is a great start...
Rating: +6
Mr. Crankypants
The author's an idiot. What kind of asshole thinks Canada should even have a Food Bank? And after a few years of that 'new normal' we begin to develop a homelessness problem. And while *both* of those problems have seen organizations rise up to "solve" them, they're actually getting worse, even while people - like the Director of the Vancouver Food Bank - earn sizeable 6 figure salaries to 'solve' the problem. Yeh - give money to the Food Bank and watch as the directors salary goes up.
The solution to these problems is called a minimum basic income. At one stroke, these parasitic organizations that exist solely because of our collective political apathy will be gone and they'll have to actually find some other 'change the world' branding exercise to pull down those cush salaries.
Hell - Even Arundhati Roy has recognized many of these NGO's are simply offsetting the excesses of capitalism, so it's not like I'm making this up.
Don't donate. Don't feed people. Don't create another charitable organization that's feeds off the moral obligations we've shirked politically. Stop feeding the capitalist trolls that enrich themselves by your abdication of political will. Let people starve and freeze to death and then ask yourself why we need new jet fighters, where the tax monies generated from pipelines is going, or whether we really need a new roof on a shithole stadium.
*We* collectively make poverty and homelessness through our political choices. And *we* solve it by ensuring that's there's a floor that nobody can sink beneath. And we can lift that floor when we decide that everybody deserves a minimum amount of money to live on - and it ain't that $610 a month called Welfare. And it won't require people to "show government approved ID" simply to get food that most people wouldn't even consider eating. I'll bet the author didn't know that the Food Bank humiliates their patrons by demanding they show ID simply to fucking eat. They don't trust the people they're meant to servee - that tells you everything about this 'nice' organization.
Knock off the 'be a good person' horseshit. If we *really* want to get serious about our fellow human beings and their right to dignity, we need to give them money. A goodly amount every month, so that people can make choices for themselves - not ones dictated by scumbags enjoying upper-middle-class lifestyles at their expense.
Rating: +1
Isn't there a program in place whereby the businesses in Vancouver donate their First Tuesday of the month profits to food, shelter, counseling and job training programs for the homeless?
Rating: +4
I like it
Rating: 0
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