Plenty of plates is a necessary medicine for our city. Not just for the folks receiving free meals, but for those who are giving them.
If you could describe how you feel about the downtown east side in one word, what would it be?
Would the word be something like "poverty"? Or "addictions"? Or "suffering"?
It's true that much of our feelings about the people and places we don't regularly interact with are influenced by what we see in the media.
And lately, the media has not been kind to the downtown east side.
There's no denying that there are serious issues plaguing our city that have to do with opioid addictions, mental health, and economic hardships to name a few. But how we treat people, regardless of their lived experiences, is a reflection of our society.
We can, and should, do better.
That's the mandate that drives the folks at A Better Life Foundation. A Vancouver-based nonprofit whose mission is to address issues related to food security in the city.
Their programmes include daily preparation of over 1,500 meals; inclusive hiring to reintroduce folks from the downtown east side into the workforce; food recovery that rescues thousands of discarded, yet totally edible, foods from throughout the city; and Plenty of Plates, a regular free dining event that occurs in the downtown east side.
Plenty of Plates is a necessary medicine for our city. Not just for the individuals coming in for a warm meal, but for those who are providing them.
The way it works is that organizations, or groups of individuals, can raise a minimum of $6,000 to activate a Plenty of Plates event. The group then organizes to meet and volunteer services at the beautiful Save on Meats diner in Hastings Sunrise.
They'll prepare a three course dinner and serve it directly to anyone who walks through the doors that evening.
It's a magical event that immediately dissolves barriers. The atmosphere is warm, exciting, filled with music, sometimes there's dancing, but there's always laughter.
People in Vancouver can forget that these are talented, beautiful, and real human beings who deserve empathy and respect.
But there's just something about food.
"Some of the most meaningful conversations I've had were at the dinner table", says Ash MacLeod, Managing Partner at A Better Life Foundation. He's the one that contacted us to come and capture some of these heartwarming stories about the community.
The media has been on a vitriol campaign to disparage the neighbourhood. I mean, they're not wrong in that there are cases of violence, and death by fentanyl overdose far outweighs the impacts felt by Covid.
Our new mayor has promised a hundred new police officers on the streets.
We all know that strict security isn't the answer. The fact is, there likely isn't any one answer to solving this epidemic that plagues ours and many other modern cities.
But what would it be like if everyone in Vancouver had regular access to healthy food? There's plenty of food to go around.
Over 58% of food goes to waste. When you measure the impact that has on the economy and the environment by way of the energy it takes to grow, process, deliver, and then throw that food away; it's unfathomable and yet it's real.
What would it mean for folks who struggle to get a single meal to have access to regular healthy food? What would it mean if they didn't have to spend their entire day thinking about food, or standing in long lines to get to food, or worry about having their food stolen, or worse; that they can be arrested easier than they can get to a meal?
What would it mean for someone to be able to spend that time and energy on developing a skill, applying to a job, or working on their path to recovery?
This is a solvable problem. Plenty of Plates isn't a mission to feed everyone in the downtown east side, that's the larger mandate of A Better Life Foundation. But what Plenty of Plates is doing is connecting people of Vancouver to people of the downtown east side. Because that's what they are: people.
Speaking of A Better Life Foundation, you might have guessed that they're the clever minds behind the sandwich tokens, which went away in Covid times. Well those tokens are coming back and you're encouraged to purchase them to hand out free meal tickets to folks during this holiday season.
We've had the great privilege of experiencing Plenty of Plates a few times now. As part of our commitment to changing the narrative landscape through heartfelt storytelling, we've captured the experiences of dear friends Jen and Rileigh, who gathered their family and friends to engage a Plenty of Plates night and raise over $6,000.
We also saw Beedie Construction participate in their 13th commitment to Plenty of Plates as part of their Beedie Cares initiative. Volunteers were gathered from throughout the organization to facilitate a great team building night, while giving some of their younger employees a glimpse into their culture of empathy.
After a night at Plenty of Plates, the words that often come out of people sound like: "community", "laughter", and "compassion". All it takes is a genuine moment between people to drop any sense of enmity.
If you're interested in getting involved with Plenty of Plates, there are plenty of ways you can do so. You can donate your time by volunteering to help prepare and serve the food at one of the events. You can also donate money or resources towards the event itself. Or, you can spread the word about Plenty of Plates - telling your friends, family, and co-workers about the event so that perhaps your business can organize a night.
I encourage everyone to participate in a Plenty of Plates night. It might just change your mind, and might just save someone else’s life.