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Catholic Vancouver April 4, 2018

Volunteers dish up meals for homeless in Lent, Easter

By Agnieszka Ruck

Children volunteering with Believe Street Meals smile with eggs they decorated for the homeless March 31. Believe Street Meals, based at Christ the Redeemer Parish, has been running for 10 years. (Photos courtesy Melissa Lim)

VANCOUVER—While many families were decorating eggs and sharing an Easter meal, a community in North Vancouver made sure the homeless were not forgotten.

Dozens of volunteers with Believe Street Meals stepped out onto the streets with sandwiches, cookies, pretzels, clothing, and cards during the Lent and Easter seasons.

“It was a big day and it was certainly worthwhile,” said John Lesow, a member of Christ the Redeemer Parish, who handed out neatly wrapped sandwiches and cookies at the corner of Burrard and Davie Streets March 18.

He gave away meals with about a dozen other volunteers, and estimates about 100 homeless people were fed that day.

John Lesow dishes up some soup on the corner of Burrard and Davie Streets March 18.

“Would I do it again? Absolutely. I was a good experience. I learned something. It benefitted people. Most of the people were respectful, and some people had substance abuse issues, you could tell, but they were for the most part grateful for what we were doing.”

Believe Street Meals was launched about 10 years ago, inspired by the faithful example of foster mom, retiree, and support for the homeless Ellen Shonsta.

Shonsta, originally from Kimberley, B.C., began delivering homemade cookies to about 30-50 street youth in Vancouver every night in 1995. Friend Melissa Lim said Shonsta’s efforts just grew from there.

“I’m not sure how it expanded, but by the time I met her, many of the congregation of Lynn Valley Full Gospel were preparing over 100 loaves of sandwiches each Monday for her to distribute nightly as she made her rounds through Granville Street, down Robson, and up Denman,” said Lim.

Shonsta never forced her Christian faith on anyone, said Lim, instead becoming like a family member to homeless youth and earning the nickname “Street Mom.”

After her mom passed, Shonsta retired to take care of her family, and Lim and other volunteers stepped in to fill the void. Believe Street Meals was born.

Melissa Lim (second from right) launched Believe Street Meals 10 years ago.

“We just all come together and do what needs to be done,” said Lim. The group prepares meals at Christ the Redeemer Parish before taking them to Burrard Street to give away.

Lim added while many volunteers are members of Christ the Redeemer Parish, others are from other parishes, other Christian churches, or even have no faith background at all.

Many children were invited to paint eggs and create Easter cards for the homeless and give them away on March 18 or on Holy Saturday, March 31.

“It’s a good experience, I think,” said volunteer Ida Gazzola. Last Thanksgiving, her children made cookies to give away at Believe Street Meals. On March 18, her 11-year-old made pretzels for the homeless.

“‘We have to eat our food because other people don’t have food’ doesn’t mean much without contact with people who are struggling,” said Gazzola.

“We want them to give back to society, to be more grateful for what they have, and have a good social context and act as good Christians.”

Children give away handmade pretzels with Believe Street Meals March 18.

Her children were also moved by the experience.

“Homeless people are different than I expected,” said her 13-year-old daughter, Maria.

“I never really got to interact or talk with many before and I realized that they're not there to hurt you, they’re just normal people who need to be given a chance, a better chance, another chance to do things over.”

Believe Street Meals will serve up its next meal April 7.