NORTH Shore residents will be among the volunteers leading by example at an upcoming event seeking to inspire those struggling with addiction to take positive steps in their recovery journey.
For the last seven years, the Vancouver-based Servants of Hope Society has provided a holiday meal to those experiencing homelessness as well as those struggling with addiction in the Downtown Eastside. The event, Feeding the Homeless at Christmas in Pigeon Park, is unique as a number of volunteers are in substance abuse recovery themselves, as well as having previously lived in the area.
This year's event will be held Monday, Dec. 17 and Servants of Hope Society founder Sean H. is expecting it to be their biggest yet.
"I couldn't feed myself 10 years ago and with a little hope, 10 years later, I'm now feeding 1,000 with the help of my friends," he says. "If that isn't hope I don't know what is."
In addition to the annual Christmas initiative, Servants of Hope runs a faith-based men's recovery house in East Vancouver.
The annual holiday meal started small, seeing Sean and two of his friends, all three in early recovery, show up in the Downtown Eastside to distribute sandwiches, water, pop and clothing.
They were surprised at the outcome. "They were known in that neighbourhood for many years and they found recovery," he says of the friends who accompanied him, "so we go back down there and next thing you know, there were all these people who remembered and knew them and had never seen them clean and sober."
Those they were serving ran to get others, wanting them to see with their own eyes the trio's success in moving forward on a positive, sober path. "That really, really affected me and it also really affected my two friends," says Sean.
In the years that have followed, Sean has continued to lead the charge in presenting the annual meal, and participation and reach has continued to grow. The 2011 edition saw more than 100 people volunteer (primarily people in recovery, former area residents and some who had been served by the dinner in the past).
"They're all together on this night in that neighbourhood and they're just so grateful to be a part of it, and so happy that they can give back and giving back is the foundation for turning our lives around," says Sean.
"We totally understand what it's like for these people in the Downtown Eastside, for those that we do help, to be in a food line all year long. It's just another food line? No, this is not another food line. This is like nothing they've seen," he adds.
Together they served dinner to approximately 1,000 people in two hours. In addition, "Santa Claus" made an appearance and handed out gifts.
Sean hopes the event continues to convince those they serve that change is possible.
"When all you see is pain and suffering and misery, you need to see hope in order for you maybe to consider that there is hope for you," he says.
Organization for this year's event is on track and while Sean has been overwhelmed by interested volunteers - from throughout the Lower Mainland, including the North Shore - and donations of food, blankets and other gifts, there are a few items he's still seeking. Warm clothing (mittens, gloves, hats and socks), chocolate, gift wrap and ribbon are currently on his wish list, as well as monetary donations to the society.
To make a donation or for more information on the Servants of Hope Society, visit servantsofhope.ca.