In recognition of Homelessness Action Week October 11 to October 17, Vancity Buzz will be featuring profiles and interviews with former residents of the Downtown East Side, organizations trying to make a difference, and the history of one of Vancouver’s most notorious neighbourhoods.
This series is presented in partnership with the Union Gospel Mission, which offers support, programs, and resources for people looking to overcome their addictions, reenter the work force, and take back control of their lives.
On Saturday, October 17, 2015 UGM invites you to learn about the DTES community through the Hello Neighbour Project, which offers neighbourhood walks and a community plunge at Oppenheimer Park. For more info visit www.ugm.ca/haw
More information on the Union Gospel Mission can be found online.
“Save On Meats was part of food security in the Downtown East Side long before anyone discussed it,” says owner Mark Brand, owner of combination butcher/deli/charitable organization Save On Meats. “When Al DesLauriers ran it, and Sunny Wosk before him, it’s always been a place for affordable food both at a grocery level and with the diner, where everybody is welcome.”
When Brand took over the Vancouver institution the goal was to facilitate a real conversation about what was going on in the DTES, and what Save On Meats could do to help both as a businesses and as a community touchstone.
Thus came the Save On Meats token program. Over the last year Save On Meats has distributed 80,000 tokens to various community members, organizations, and residents, which can then be redeemed for a free meal.
“The tokens are used by the whole community, from the Vancouver Police Department all the way to the food bank,” he says. “Creating that currency for people to engage was a big part of Save On Meats mandate, too.”
On the heels of the token program came the A Better Life Foundation, the charitable arm of Save On Meats that supplies food, training, and employment opportunities to individuals and organizations in the DTES.
“The Rainier Women’s Hotel who lost their funding needed 40 meals a day, so we stepped up to provide those, or [Megaphone Magazine] vendors, if they’ve sold 20 magazines the month prior are eligible to eat at Save On every day on us,” says Brand. “We’re trying to work with people who are trying to get towards upward mobility, and create somewhere for people to go for that help.”
Much of Save On Meats charitable programs operate out of their community kitchen located behind the butcher shop, which employs people who Brand says would traditionally have barriers to getting employment. People with developmental disabilities, people currently going through recovery, people who have recently been incarcerated; at Save On Meats, Brand says everyone is treated fairly and equally.
“That’s been our mandate all the way through,” he says.
Brand recalls one Save On Meats employee, Carson, in particular.
“[He] was having a really hard time with narcotics, and sort of having a hard time just keeping employment. In the last three years he’s gotten clean, he’s a really big part of our team, and is going to school this semester to become a counselor himself. Those sort of things, you see those successes, and you notice it’s mutually beneficial. We’ve got an awesome workforce, and a really good group of people, and it’s important to keep building on it and keep strengthening our bond with the community.”
Brand says that while it might seem like going above and beyond the call of duty for a business like Save On Meats, the cause is one near and dear to his heart, and the hearts of his employees.
“It’s important to me because first of all I love my neighbourhood, and secondly because you get to see the successes,” he says.”
“We’re working with an entire community, and it’s a very complex one. Everyone who’s in the neighbourhood have been doing the work for so very long. We want to do what we do best, which is food, and we wanted to ensure that people would eat.”
Going forward, Brand says he wants to see Save On Meats as a community partner, and A Better Life Foundation as a charity, help people achieve even further upward mobility.
“Access better housing, healthcare, and working like groups with Vancouver Coastal Health, and all the other groups working in the neighbourhood to just really attack the biggest problems,” he says. “While we might not get it right the first time, the second time, the third or fourth time, we’re going to keep going at it, and not get frustrated… These problems are super complex, we don’t think we know what the solutions are yet, but we’re going to keep working on them and achieve success.”
On October 17, in with the Portland Hotel Society and Union Gospel Mission, Save On Meats will provide 1,500 meals, as well as 1,000 tokens for free meals at Oppenheimer Park.
“I think a lot of the problems with our neighbourhood are due to people not understanding it, and understanding that it’s safe, and understanding that’s it’s beautiful, and that the people are awesome, they’re just complicated,” says Brand “So when you have an event solely to show people what the issues are, you create some awesome allies, and we love those guys. We’re just happy to play a small part with our food.”