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.)