Outside Raheil Moradi’s work in Downtown Vancouver she got acquainted with a man living on the streets, which inspired her to start an initiative to help people in similar situations gain access to homemade meals.
Pay It Forward started with seven people over a year and a half ago, five of which were Moradi’s family members. Today, they have almost 70 volunteers who are involved in one way or another, either through donating money, their time or donating in kind.
Moradi started out without any intention behind it, other than to help those in need. Today, they are feeding around 400 people on a Sunday of every second month.
Volunteers come together at her house in West Vancouver around 9 a.m. for about four hours. Together, they prepare the food and afterwards drive down to Oppenheimer Park in Downtown Vancouver to hand out the food packs. Depending on the weather, they either hand out cold drinks or hot chocolate to accompany the food.
Moradi worked in a prestigious part of Downtown Vancouver on Alberni Street. She first saw the man that inspired this organization in 2012 and ended up spending months talking to him and buying him breakfast and taking him treats for his dog.
She started to get to know him and after a while he started opening up about his story. He had lost his family, a wife and two daughters, in an accident and eventually ended up on the streets. She said she was surprised by his story and how educated he was.
Since 2012, homelessness has become noticeably worse in Vancouver and Moradi thinks that people have become desensitised to the issue.
“When somebody walks into Versace and they buy a bag for $5,000, it wouldn’t kill them to buy a sandwich from Tim Horton’s for five bucks,” Moradi said.
She believes that every little bit helps. To her, it was important to give food that represented a meal that they could receive at home instead of a plain sandwich.
“We provide homemade-grade food, just to make sure that these people remember that we know that they are on the street and their circumstances are not easy,” she said.
Moradi said some of the stories of the people they feed are very touching. “Just because they are there doesn’t mean they are bad people.”
Moradi said that the people living without homes treat them like family. To her, it has been an emotional experience meeting and getting to know some of the people that they hand out the food packs to.
Terry Pask has been involved with Pay It Forward since the end of last year. He is a long-time member of the West Van Chamber of Commerce and has been involved in non-profit organizations for years.
“To me someone like Raheil – where out of the blue she’s doing this to really sort of embrace the community, but all of it, not bits of it – that’s very rare,” he said.
He donates money and he brings along his expertise in the business. He has many connections in the community and he recently had a meeting with Loblaws who has agreed to help with donations.
“These people need it and we need to look at them in a different light,” said Pask. “We get wrapped up in what we’re trying to accomplish, and they’re trying to live day by day.”