A grassroots organization that started in the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation in the B.C. Interior, to provide a winter feast for residents of the Downtown Eastside (DTES), is now reaching out across the province to help provide meals for residents of the community in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “Helping Our Urban K’wséltkten [Family] Indigenous Winter Feast” (HOUK) was created by two members of the Bonaparte Band near Cache Creek: Johnny Perry, who manages support workers for Vancouver Native Housing, and former Bonaparte Kukpi7 (Chief) Ryan Day. In 2016 the two men—along with Perry’s father, Johnny Perry, Sr.—were talking about how difficult it is for DTES residents in the dark days of January, and particularly for Indigenous residents who are far from their traditional homes. The men decided to organize donations of traditional food, which would not only provide nutrition and the medicine of First Nations food and gathering, but help connect people to their land.
The first feast was in January 2017, and has been held every January since then, providing hundreds of DTES residents—First Nations and non-First Nations—with a hot meal, traditional First Nations entertainment, warm clothing, and more. Now HOUK is trying to raise funds to provide residents with hot meals at this difficult time for many.
“Helping Our Urban K’wséltkten is trying to help in this stressful time,” he says. “We’ve set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds and purchase meal vouchers.”
The vouchers will be for the Evelyne Saller Centre, which is operated by the City of Vancouver and provides a variety of services to low income and at-risk adults living in the Downtown Eastside. The centre provides breakfasts, lunches, and dinners daily, seven days a week, at a cost of $2 each.
“We’re fundraising to purchase vouchers and distribute as we see they’re needed,” says Perry. “People always want to help this community, but are unsure how to. This is an opportunity for people to help by providing hot meals.”
In addition to working in the DTES, Perry lives close to the community, and says that it’s heartbreaking to see what’s going on there.
“We want to help out any way we can. Many people, no matter where they live, know someone who’s in the DTES for some reason. This is a challenging time for the everyday population there. Everybody needs a hot meal, everybody needs to be nourished. Now is not the time to judge.”
Perry says there is a lot of worry and anxiety in the community right now. Frontline workers are trying to calm people, but are also looking for people to calm and help them as they try to stay safe and healthy.
“All the frontline workers support each other, try to minimize contact, keep ourselves safe. We have equipment and sanitizer, but even that simple equipment isn’t available to everyone, and we don’t have the funds to access it.
“The real heroes are those working at the hospitals and at care homes, but it’s scary for us as well.”
Perry says that the meal voucher system is something that HOUK wants to implement quickly.
“As soon as we have funds we’ll go to the Evelyne Saller Centre, put the money on our account, and start distributing vouchers. They’ve made it really low-barrier, and they’re good at working with us. If someone contributes $10 they can say they’ve fed five people, and $100 can feed 50 people.
“It’s for everybody in the community. The reason behind the feast was to show a little extra love to the community, and now of all times is the time to show that.”