The McNair Mini School’s Grade 12 class visited the Salvation Army Harbour Light facility on Monday March 14th, 2011. Here are some reflections from the students about their experience:
The Mini School’s graduating class was lucky enough to spend a few unforgettable hours at a soup kitchen where we got the opportunity to help out. I believe I had the best job in the place, handing out the trays of food to the hungry people. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to not only the people lining up for their meals, but also the men going through treatment who were also helping out there. The overall atmosphere of the building was an uplifting one and I without a doubt felt welcomed. This experience was an eye-opener that raised my awareness on a world I knew barely anything about, and I’m thankful for the opportunity.
Before arriving at the soup kitchen I was very hesitant and didn’t quite know what to expect. Obviously, everyone has pre-conceived notions of the East side of Vancouver being known as sketchy and dangerous so in all honesty I wasn’t exactly “thrilled” to be going. Once I got my job running trays to the special needs tables I was a bit worried at first after being told I had to cut the line to get trays. I’ve seen how kids in the cafe (at school) react when people cut the line so I was not in the least excited to see how these people would react. To my surprise though everyone who came was kind, and respectful and understood I was doing my job and let me through. All the people I brought food to were even more thankful and were grateful for everything they received. It seemed everyone there knew each other and it was a very tight-knit community which was great to see. I expected fighting and grabbing but that was hardly the case. Even the staff were friendly and helped us and gave me some pointers along the way. The biggest impact though was listening to the stories of Ashley and Kevin and their experiences through addiction. Hearing someone else’s story really struck a chord with me. All-in-all I’m very glad I went, the people there surpassed my expectations by leaps and bounds. Even though they’ve gone through hardships above all they are still human beings and every one deserves respect, and a hot-meal and if I’m the one who can bring that into their lives I’d be honoured.
The experience of the soup kitchen was extremely eye opening. It was definitely hard to see all these people that are homeless and struggle to survive. But it was amazing to see how most of the people were optimistic for the future. They all were extremely generous to one another and it was like watching a family. I was given the job of cutting the dessert and the people that I worked with were extremely nice and polite. At the end we were lucky enough to hear the life story of two homeless people. The experience in general was amazing and has helped me see how even though things like drugs and alcohol may not seem that bad at the time, the power of addiction is controlling and if you make bad decisions it is hard to come back from them.
For a trip that we had completely forgotten about until the day of, this was certainly one of the more rewarding ones.
Before a few days ago (as of writing this), if somebody had mentioned the words “soup kitchen” along with “volunteer” I may have had a bit of a cringe. Call me what you may, but I have not had the greatest experiences with the Downtown Eastside; I guess you could say, then, that this trip was a major experience. Okay, I can deal with that. However, it completely blew my mind how quickly that misconception I had was dissolved – literally the second I set foot inside the facility, I knew somehow that it was an amazing place.
I’ll spare the coarse details, but everything about it just oozed humanitarianism. The place was as clean as a hospital, its walls were painted with kindness and its floors mopped with sunshine. The volunteers there were nothing less than excellent people, most of them young-looking men maybe twice our age, and before we even got to shake hands with anyone we were given red aprons and assigned positions. Elliot and I, always inseparable, ended up being in the clump of people who could not be assigned on account of there being so much help already; by some stroke of luck, the lady in charge asked us “Do you play any instruments?”
A smile instantly spread across my face. For the last fifteen minutes I had been eyeing the grand piano and the drum set that were currently set up in the main hallway. “If you guys want, you could go and entertain them while they’re waiting to come in.” No further words were needed. I instinctively started plinking the keys of the beautiful piano while Elliot used his magic powers to produce an electric guitar, at which point the crowd came in.
Words can’t even describe what it was like to see how many people were there. It was almost surreal; here we were, standing at the door to a soup kitchen, playing music for about four hundred people. And they loved it! Some people started clapping to the beat. Some sang along. A couple requests of “Freebird” rang out. Everybody in the room, us included, were having a great time. And to top it off, we met Ash.
Ash was another volunteer at the kitchen, and he overheard our playing and came out to see if he could join. Within minutes, we had a full three-piece band with Ash singing, Elliot playing guitar and myself on the drums, and did we ever have a heck of a time. After everything was all said and done, we didn’t want to leave; we wanted to do it again for the dinner rush!
That was not, however, the only reason we didn’t want to leave. Seeing the looks on people’s faces as they sat there waiting for their lunch, being treated to a fun little performance… it was like nothing I had ever seen before. They completely shattered my preconceptions of the kind of people that might go to a soup kitchen; they were unbelievably nice, very well-mannered, and overall were people just like us. It makes me feel terrible to think that I once thought less of other human beings, but that really is the way society makes us think of them. If more of us just went there again, volunteered as much of our time as we could, and genuinely got to know some of these people, it would change our entire world view. After helping out even just a little bit, your heart just wants to help these people as much as you can, and God knows a lot of them need the help.
It was undeniably a notion-shattering day. Every single one of us had a great time serving the people there, and a lot of us want to go back again. It truly is an amazing experience when one gets to assist the public in such a way; if only more people were more open to the idea, maybe we’d be able to abolish the apathy towards Vancouver’s growing homelessness problem for good. And in Elliot’s, Ash’s, and my case, at the very least we could give them a good show.