Save On Meats' Plenty of Plates serves three-course meals with a side of community to Downtown Eastside residents

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      Save-on Meats at 43 West Hastings Street is well known for its token program and Greasy Spoon Supper Series. Both direct funds toward improving food security in the Downtown Eastside.

      As the home base of A Better Life Foundation, the organization is now aiming to ramp up Plenty of Plates. Designed as a team-building event for companies or groups, the program has volunteers prepare and serve a three-course, sit-down meal to Downtown Eastside residents who rarely, if ever, get to enjoy the luxury of a restaurant dining experience.

      Here’s how a typical evening goes down: Around 10 to 15 volunteers show up at 5 p.m. sharp, ready to spend about four hours on-site. Within that period, they prep, cook from scratch, and serve about 100 meals to people who call the area home. (The historic diner can seat 70 people max; the other 30 meals get packed up to go.)

      As an example of what might be on the menu, a recent event consisted of broccoli and smoked-cheddar soup; rotini carbonara with bacon, onion, and peas; and waffles with ice cream and warm strawberries and blueberries.

      Plenty of Plates volunteers learn all about what it's like to cook and work in a real restaurant at Save On Meats.
      Gail Johnson.

      With Save-On Meats facilitators directing things, a handful of volunteers sets up the front of house, while everyone else dons aprons in the kitchen, slicing veggies, stirring pots, and setting out plates and bowls. The Save-On Meats team has the meal service down to a science, with volunteers following a U shape in the room as they deliver hot dishes to make sure no one is missed.

      All of the volunteers are encouraged to get out on the floor, to run food, fill up glasses and cups (with pop, water, milk, coffee, or tea), clear plates, and, above all, talk to guests. While the evening is a source of desperately needed nourishment, just as important is the creation of a welcoming space where everyone is treated with respect.

      “We’re breaking down stigma and bias,” A Better Life Foundation executive director Ash MacLeod said at the October 15 Plenty of Plates. “This is 50 percent about food, 50 percent about human connection.

      “We hear words like sketchy, poverty, and addiction to describe the Downtown Eastside,” he says. “We don’t hear words like friendship, community, hope, and resilience. That’s all here, and a night here changes a lot of people’s perceptions. We need people to give a shit about this neighbourhood. To put an end to the opioid crisis, we need people to care.”

      Money raised from the evening goes toward the foundation’s daily meal program, which feeds more than 850 people a day.

      A Better Life Foundation currently runs one to two Plenty of Plates events a week; it’s hoping to get that number up to four weekly.

      Pamela Anderson and Green Party candidate Bridget Burns attended a Green Party "Register to Vote" event at Save On Meats and served vegan meals to residents of the Downtown Eastside.
      Save On Meats/Instagram.

      In related news, a Vancouver East Green candidate, Bridget Burns, held an event Save-On Meats recently to promote voter registration in the Downtown Eastside. Pamela Anderson awas on hand to serve vegan meals to neighbourhood residents, who could get registered to vote for the October 21 federal election.