Downtown Eastside community has delivered 100,000 hot meals to their most vulnerable neighbours

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Over the last seven weeks, during the worst of the COVID-19 restrictions, more than 100,000 hot meals have been distributed to people living in SROs or on the streets in the Downtown Eastside. 

In mid-March, CIRES convened a table of 10 social enterprises to discuss business continuity issues during the COVID crisis.  Potluck, a social-enterprise catering operation that employs Downtown Eastside residents with barriers to employment, join the table where we began brainstorming how to help the community where access to food was becoming less and less available among other pressing topics. That group quickly grew to over 50 members meeting every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and it carried on for over two months. The partners brought together to support food production and distribution are a result of CIRES' quick action to assemble partners eager to support the DTES.

Starting April 3, Potluck, H.A.V.E. Culinary Training Society and Goodly Foods Society were funded by city hall to cook 1,200 meals a day for people living in single rooms in 35 Downtown Eastside buildings, to help them shelter in place to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

But soon it became clear 1,200 more meals would be needed daily to feed people who were homeless or living rough, Potluck's Executive Director Naved Noorani said. That second idea was funded through an initial donation of 9,000 meals from South Hall event centre, and then the SRO Collaborative, which represents tenants in Downtown Eastside buildings, helped raise another $180,000 in donations, which allowed Noorani to pay local restaurants like Wildebeest to cook meals for the homeless.

Potluck's large distribution centre on Hastings Street is part of CIRES' portfolio. From there volunteers from the film industry deliver most of the 1,200 lunches to the SROs, and peer workers with a half dozen non-profit organizations distribute the other 1,200 meals to people with precarious or no housing.

In addition to the food piece, CIRES has partnered with the City of Vancouver to see $600,000 in peer wages go directly into the pockets of vulnerable community members performing vital work in the DTES to support residents. This work includes safe supply navigation, sanitation and cleaning of community gathering spaces, food delivery to the vulnerable and respite support for women and others.

The city's funding for the 1,200 SRO meals ends on May 28, and Noorani doesn't know yet if that will be extended given some restrictions are now being lifted.

It costs $6,000 a day to cook and distribute the 1,200 meals for the homeless, and Noorani only has enough money to keep that operation going until Wednesday. He strongly believes the homeless meals must continue, as long as traditional meal providers in the Downtown Eastside continue to be restricted from running their cafeteria-like programs.

The meals must cater to residents who might be missing teeth or have digestive problems, so they include many softer options such as chicken-pesto kinds of pasta, fish chowders, and beef with beans and rice.

Anyone wanting to help can donate through Potluck's website.

Potluck's initiatives are part of a larger movement of the inner-city creating its own unique solutions to challenges posed by the pandemic, said Jennifer Johnstone, CEO of Central City, a Downtown Eastside foundation that funds social programs, capital projects and social-purpose real estate 

About $8 million in philanthropic donations, through fundraisers such as the Community Response Fund, have been used to help Downtown Eastside organizations pivot their service models to better help during the pandemic, Johnstone said.  

Some residents who lost their jobs when social enterprises had to close, for example, were offered work with other Downtown Eastside businesses that are booming — such as the Clean Start sanitation company.

"That's people coming together and figuring out to support each other, and at the same time recognizing that things are not good. Things are super bad on the streets for people in the Downtown Eastside right now,” Johnstone said.

Donations to support these programs have nearly been used up. Anyone wanting to help can donate at

Source: The Province

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