Union Gospel Mission
This Christmas season, thousands of men, women, and children will come to Union Gospel Mission for food, warm clothing, and shelter. As the weather turns colder and nights grow longer, people in need are especially grateful to have a warm place like UGM to turn to.
As you read Norman’s story, you will see that his journey started with a hot meal and a night of shelter at UGM, and today he has emerged sober and healthy after 40 years of addiction. Things didn’t change overnight but after connecting with trained Outreach Workers, a spark of hope had been lit. Just 4 weeks after coming to UGM, Norman believed it was possible to turn his life around, and he entered into UGM’s Alcohol & Drug Recovery Program.
The meals you provide not only physically feed those in need, they also offer hope and introduce people, like Norman, to opportunities that could change their lives. That’s why we always say miracles begin with a meal. Whether it’s a special holiday feast, or a daily breakfast, lunch, or dinner, your gift has union gospel mission potential to enliven and uplift those in need, giving them strength to take the first steps toward a life of health and wholeness.
Together we can support people in our community who need it most. With your help, UGM expects to serve over 65,000 meals and 5,000 nights of shelter throughout the Christmas season.None of this would be possible without you. I hope you will partner with us to ensure every person who comes through our doors receives the help they so desperately need. For just $3.29, you can provide a meal that could help someone transform their life.
On behalf of all of the staff and guests at Union Gospel Mission, thank you for your care and compassion this Christmas. Blessings and joy as you celebrate the holidays.
William B. Mollard
UGM guests enjoy a festive Thanksgiving celebration on a beautiful fall day.
On October 14th, thousands of men, women and children gathered at Union Gospel Mission for our 26th annual Thanksgiving celebration. Guests sat together at the harvest table to enjoy a hot turkey dinner with all the trimmings, live music, and a warm sense of community.
Throughout the meal, skilled Outreach Workers connected with guests, listened to their stories and shared information about UGM’s transformational services, such as Alcohol & Drug Recovery, and Emergency Shelter. For countless people, this meal represented a new beginning. There was a beautiful spirit in the air as guests paused to offer sincere thanks for the blessing of a bountiful Thanksgiving feast. Thanksgiving dinners were also served across Metro Vancouver at our facilities in New Westminster and Surrey. By the end of the day 3,072 meals were served to individuals and families in need. None of this would have been possible without the combined support from our generous donors, tireless volunteers, and hard-working kitchen & outreach staff. The holidays can be a lonely and difficult time for many, but thanks to your outpouring of love, our guests left with a sense of family, and a reminder that they are cared for. Thank you for sharing so generously with those in need.
Norman was born in Montreal Lake First Nations Cree Band in Saskatchewan, in 1957. With both parents struggling with alcoholism, he spent many hours alone as a young child. Norman reflects, “My parents weren’t much for babysitting, but a part of me liked being out on my own. I felt so free. I remember running around in the bush. Going swimming – I didn’t actually know how to swim or float, but I used to jump in and climb my way back out. I wish that freedom could have lasted forever.”
When Norman was 6 years old he was dragged out of his mother’s arms and forced onto a bus that would take him to a residential school. “I remember that day so clearly. I can see my mother’s face. After being so free like that and all of a sudden being thrown on a bus, and taken away from my family. It was horrible.” It was during that traumatic time at residential school that Norman was first abused. It also became the place where any notion of God was driven out of his heart.
After 3 years, Norman’s mother was able to take him and his siblings out of the residential school. In that time, his parents had split up and his mother was now with another man who was also an alcoholic. It was a challenging environment and he was soon shuffled off to a foster home where Norman too started drinking, at just 14 years old. It was all for fun at the time, but soon he was drinking every day. He remembers, “I never noticed it getting out of control. I never thought of myself as an alcoholic. Nothing mattered much to me at the time.”
As Norman grew into adulthood, his drinking turned to doing drugs. His drug use increased, and it got harder and harder to lead a normal life. Years passed like this. Worn out by the ceaseless cycle of heavy drug use, Norman started to lose hope that things could ever get better. “Truthfully, I thought someone would find me dead in an alley with a needle sticking out of my arm. I heard about Vancouver’s reputation as having a lot of drugs. By that point, I really believed I was a hopeless drug addict, and I thought I might as well move to Vancouver and surround myself with the worst of it.”
At 51 years old, Norman arrived in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for what he thought could be his last days. After two weeks of living on the streets, things took an unexpected turn. Norman found his way to Union Gospel Mission for a hot meal. “During the dinner I found out UGM had a shelter program as well. I was relieved because that night I knew I had a safe place to stay.”
While staying at UGM, at times there were glimmers of hope that things could be better, but he was still struggling with his long-time addiction. “I worked odd jobs and got paid at the end of every day. I would use the money to buy my drugs, and then go to the shelter for night. That was the cycle, until one day, an outreach worker sat down with me and asked me if I wanted to get into recovery. I decided it was at least worth a try.”
Recovery was a long road, but every day Norman got stronger. He shares, “I realized that life had to be about more than just me. I found my strength in God. For me, it’s about giving everything over to him. I get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to read the Bible and listen to gospel music. Each morning, I pray for wisdom and strength.”
For the last 3 years, Norman has been working as a custodian for UGM, and in everything he does, his deep care for others shines through. “The best part of my job is the people. The staff, guests, and residents - they make this job worth it. The hardest part is seeing people relapse. That breaks my heart, but I always hope and pray they come back so they can enjoy what they have left of their life,” he says.
Today, Norman is 5 years clean and sober, and not looking back. “I came to UGM for a meal, and I found my freedom. I am alive, I’m content, and I’m satisfied with my life. I want others to get their lives back like I have.” This Christmas season, thousands of people struggling with homelessness and addiction will come to UGM for food and warm shelter – it could be the first step in finding hope and freedom, like it was for Norman.
Norman hard at work as a custodian for Union Gospel Mission.
Every month for the last 10 years, Sue Anne has been using her talent as a hair stylist to bless women at Lydia Home, UGM’s live-in Alcohol & Drug Recovery program for women. She has touched the hearts of hundreds of women in recovery. When asked what this experience has meant to her, here’s what Sue Anne had to say:
I still remember the first haircut I gave here. It was a petite woman with a lot of hair. I gave her a pixie cut to bring out her features. She went into the bathroom and she screamed. At first I was worried, but she came out and said she absolutely loved it. At that moment, I knew this was the right thing for me to do. The women I’ve met at Lydia Home have gone through intense challenges and trauma. To help someone feel renewed and beautiful brings me such joy.
There was another woman who had been living on the streets. I don’t think she’d had a haircut in about 10 years. Her hair was completely matted but she didn’t want it all cut off. I found a little crochet hook and I started to untangle the matt little by little. We talked and talked, and I kept untangling. The way she opened up to me while I worked really touched my heart. It took hours, but by the end, we were able to salvage all of her hair. She was so thrilled and so thankful. We were able to match her outer appearance with her inner journey of transformation and recovery. That was really powerful.
I delight in the knowledge that I can use my gifts to offer hope and encouragement. The women I’ve worked with say I’ve blessed them, but they have truly blessed me. Just seeing their faces when they go look at themselves in the mirror and feel their hair - that’s really my reward, to see how happy they are. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know a lot of incredible women and have witnessed some huge life transformations through recovery at Lydia Home. What a tremendous honor.
Sue Anne gives a new haircut to one of UGM’s Alcohol & Drug Recovery participants at Lydia Home.