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UGM serves up sense of community, thousands of Easter meals on DTES

Last Updated Mar 31, 2018 at 5:11 pm PST

(Hana Mae Nassar, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Three thousand Easter meals have been served up by the Union Gospel Mission

The UGM hopes to connect diners with its programs and services

Amid an opioid crisis, the UGM's members believe it's vital to connect with people and create a sense of community

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – While many have or plan to enjoy a meal with loved ones this weekend, many of the Downtown Eastside are struggling to find anything to eat.

To lend a hand, the Union Gospel Mission has dished out thousands of meals for Easter.

In total, the Mission’s Nicole Mucci says 2,000 lbs of ham, 900 lbs of scalloped potatoes, and 300 dozen buttered buns are just part of what volunteers served up.

“That’s thanks to some of our incredible donors and thanks to just this wonderful community we’re a part of.”

She says there’s been a lot of gratitude from diners, people the UGM tries to connect with in order to provide programs and services.

“For many of our guests, it might be their first time ever coming into UGM and it’s their first time connecting with an outreach worker who may be able to help them make some life changing transitions,” she says. “For some of our community members who have come to other meals before, this is just an opportunity for them to experience love, nurturing, and just a welcome environment where we want to celebrate Easter with them.”

Amid an opioid crisis, she says a lot of people have been affected. It hasn’t gone anywhere yet, she says. “This time last year we were just beginning to understand how terrifying it was. Now our community, they’ve lost loved ones, they’re struggling themselves, so we just want to be a place of welcoming… to come in and know that even though there is an enormous amount of work that needs to be done, we want to do that work with them.”

Mucci adds the Mission has been doing well making connections with people, pointing to its Women and Families’ Sanctuary Program which is full. “Every bed is filled on the women’s side, which is incredible because that means that we are trying to help as many women find stabilization as we can.”

There’s also been a surge in numbers, she explains, because of an increase in referrals.

According to the UGM each person has a unique story and struggles, something case managers help identify when they connect with those looking for help.

Giving back

Chloe Milne knows first hand how important a sense of community can be.

She says she excelled at school, but things changed when she started to experiement in her teens. “After graduating high school… I started to use opiates. That went on for a few years.”

Milne struggled with detoxing and recovery centres, and says it was only when she was introduced to the Sanctuary program at the UGM by a friend that things started to look up. “Something clicked and the support, whatever it was, the stars aligned and I’ve been sober ever since. I have a new way of life.”

She’s been sober for almost two years now, and says it’s important to give back. “The least I can do for myself and for the UGM is to try and give back even a fraction of what they gave me, which is my life back.”

With afforability, housing, and the opiate crisis top of mind, Milne stresses the importance of creating a sense of community. “To know that there’s someone there, and to raise awareness for it by people sharing their stories. All walks of life can be affected by this and it doesn’t always look the same. Hopefully getting rid of the stigma, even a little bit, and to just be there for people.”

Milne says homelessness and addiction don’t discriminate, drawing on her own life as a straight-A student as an example of that.