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

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      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.)




      Dec 19, 2012 at 3:47am

      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.

      Almost a good list

      Dec 19, 2012 at 7:46am

      Raise welfare rates? GIVE ME A BREAK!!

      teth adam

      Dec 19, 2012 at 8:42am

      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.

      Jack Jardine

      Dec 19, 2012 at 9:38am

      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.


      Dec 19, 2012 at 10:11am

      "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!"

      Justin S.

      Dec 19, 2012 at 12:57pm

      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.


      Dec 19, 2012 at 2:38pm

      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.


      Dec 19, 2012 at 4:17pm

      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!


      Dec 20, 2012 at 9:28am

      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).

      Real Solutions?

      Dec 20, 2012 at 3:54pm

      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.