With the holiday season upon us, I want to talk about giving rather than receiving. Two years ago my family and I participated in a movement that’s mission was to provide food and clothing to those who are living in the streets of Vancouver. I’ve only been a resident of this great city for four years and coming from a small town in Pennsylvania, I never really was exposed to people who lived on the streets and didn’t have the basic necessities that we all too often take for granted. Having a voice on the Internet, I feel it’s my responsibility to share with you this story and present a few opportunities on how you can help out.

Below is a brief description of the soon to be non-profit organization “Giving Christmas to the Homeless” and this excerpt comes from its Facebook page.

The cold, wet, Christmas season is fast approaching and we are once again collaborating with friends and family to help support giving to those less fortunate in and around our community.

We would like to invite you to participate in our 3rd annual giving Christmas and warmth to our homeless neighbours.

The first year, 5 of us collected warm clothing and made 100 sandwiches and a cooler full of tea and set out to give to our neighbours on the streets of Vancouver’s downtown Eastside. What a delight this proved to be, as our efforts were met with so many smiles and so much appreciation; the 5 of us decided we would definitely embark on this the next Christmas.

The second year grew immensely. After much planning, organizing, gathering and camaraderie, we collected hundreds of jackets, blankets, mitts, toques and scarves. We were also blessed with over $1100 in cash donations from family and friends, and tons of food from Uprising Breads and Safeway.

We spent about half our funds on food and the other half on socks, mitts, toques and rain ponchos from Army and Navy, who ended up giving us a 15% discount off our entire purchase as well.

One mother and her daughters made over 300 cookies and another woman and her daughter donated over 300 granola bars. Another contributor donated 100 pairs of socks to the cause as well. A group of friends gathered at my house the few days before and made and packaged over 500 sandwiches. On the day of, about 40 people arrived to help finish packaging the lunches and carry down all our clothing and food. We set out and gave out hundreds of warm clothing items, and over 500 bagged lunches, each with a sandwich, fruit, juice, sweets and candy canes and hundreds of cups of tea and hot chocolate.

It continues to be an amazing experience and a wonderful feeling for everyone involved. Please spread the word and let’s see what we can do this Christmas Season!

The first time we got involved, my family, mostly Maria and our girls, baked 300+ gingerbread cookies with the intent that homemade baking would remind people that someone (still) cares. This year there was an amazing turnout of volunteers and donations as you will see from from these amazing pictures that photographer Peter Brookes shot last week. See if you can find me (hint: I’m the white man sandwiched between my Asian family). Many of the people I was handing food out to were very gracious and thankful and only wanted to take their share. I tried to give people more than a single persons allotment but they refused telling me to give that to somebody else. Being there really makes one think about what you have and wonder how did each of these strangers end up where they are today?

The timing this year couldn’t have been better as it had just snowed the night before. Normally whenever it snows in Vancouver, it only lasts for about a day before it melts or the rain washes it away. Temperatures are very moderate here, in fact that’s one of the reasons that there are so many transients here as it never really gets that cold. However this year is very different and there are many who need our help. Many of the homeless were commenting on the fact that nobody had come yet to to help them (give out clothing and blankets). We quickly ran out of socks, jackets, and toques. Socks are in demand, and we learned that the last time we participated, but even though we tripled up on socks and gloves this year, it was still sadly disappointing when we quickly ran out. The thing about getting involved in these types of endeavours is that while you know you’re fulfilling a need, you also know that your efforts are just a band-aid and not directly addressing the real source of the unrelenting problem of people in our society having to live in the streets with the real possibility of freezing to death. The more we become involved, the more we realize how very much more there is to do.

So let’s focus on what we can do. We can’t change legislature, but we can vote for people who will make a difference. In the meantime, we can continue to collect warm clothing and blankets and try to help as many homeless as we can to be just a little warmer this winter. Maria came across a post on Facebook about a woman named Kate from ChangeEverything.ca who is doing a sub-zero clothing drive and uses her van to pick up the clothing. If you are in Vancouver or the surrounding area, I encourage you to get involved in whatever way you can. If you live in a cold climate, find out where you can go to drop off much needed supplies. Everybody has something that someone else can benefit from and every single item of clothing counts. Take a look at Peter Brooke’s photos and consider the difference your old coat or blanket can make to someone living in the freezing cold and wet.

(This post was co-written by my Maria.)