Cooking With Heart
Mike first arrived in Vancouver weary, with only $9 to his name. After finding shelter in a newspaper dumpster, he asked other people on the streets where he could get a good meal. "Union Gospel Mission," they said. Mike didn't know it yet, but that's where his miracle would begin.
Mike was 8 when his family moved from Cleveland to Montreal, and 10 when his parents separated
I was in a new country, and my parents were breaking up. It felt like my life was completely dissolving.
He started drinking alcohol to mask his grief, which escalated through his teens
The first time I got drunk I was euphoric. It seemed to be a replacement for the emotional vacuum I felt. I started skipping school, partying, and becoming wild.
In his 20's, Mike set off to travel the world, hoping to leave his spiraling life behind
I had the beginnings of fractured relationships, job losses, and signs of being an alcoholic.
Travelling was about finding a place where I could be normal. But each time I tried making a break to somewhere new, it'd take me deeper into self-destruction.
My adventures went from hitchhiking to breaking bones, being robbed, getting lost at sea, and losing friends to murder. I was making worse and worse decisions, and living an empty life.
By 30, he'd moved from Montreal to Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, Australia, Hawaii, San Francisco, then to Cleveland
Wherever I went, I'd find work cooking. Once I'd built up enough resources to leave, I'd go out into the world again to try and find myself.
With nowhere to go, he found a newspaper dumpster to sleep in until social housing became available
Broke, hungry, and in search of food, Mike came to UGM
I'll never forget my first meal here. I'd been to soup kitchens in the States, but never seen anything like this before. It was a hot, hamburger patty with gravy and mashed potatoes. It was fantastic.
What really impacted me was the welcoming atmosphere and friendly staff. It later made the difference between me looking into recovery at UGM or moving on.
He spent the next two years struggling to rebuild his life
I could barely afford my rent. Any time I'd get paid, I was spending all my money on alcohol. Ironically, even though I was a cook, I was relying on UGM to eat.
After losing his job to drinking, Mike made a plan to pack up and start fresh, yet again
I was at a point of crisis and wanted to get out of Vancouver. I thought, "I'll live in Stanley Park and bike to UGM everyday for meals. When the weather gets bad, I'll head to California. It'll be a journey to get my life back."
Not long after, Mike came to UGM for a meal. After eating, he went outside to discover his bike wheel had been stolen
My whole plan was collapsing; I was left with no way of getting back and forth. I was losing any kind of hope I had.
There are times in an addict's life where they think that if they drink or use enough, then they'll just die. That was about to be my moment.
But thankfully, his miracle was just beginning
I looked up and saw a familiar face sticking out of the window. I yelled up, "Is there any room in this place?" He said, "Yeah, you can get in! Just talk to a counsellor!"
Mike was accepted into UGM's Alcohol & Drug Recovery Program that day
I started talking to some of the guys in recovery over meals. Their stories really encouraged me. If these tough guys could come in and change their lives, maybe so could I.
That sense of love, connection, and community ultimately restored Mike's life
It was like a long-lost family. Before, it was always easy to feel alone, even in a crowded room. But sharing those thoughts and feelings with others who've been there was wonderful and healing.
Hope becomes so much clearer, and more present when you're in community. I moved past my alcoholism to transcend into that community—it was an absolute change of heart.
By the time Mike graduated, he'd become so close with UGM's kitchen team that they offered him a job!
I was happy UGM was willing to give me a chance, because nobody else would've. Being on that other side kept me connected to the community, and sober.
This year, Mike is celebrating his 23rd year of transformation
When I came in, I weighed 133 pounds, was wearing hiking boots with no socks, and had 37 cents and three cigarettes.
What UGM has given me, I can't even begin to describe it. I have a meaningful career, I've been happily with my wife for 18 years, and I own a home. I have stability, health, and people to call family.
My new life is a miracle—and every day, I'm paying it forward.
All those years ago, Mike made a plan to start fresh. Part of that plan is still intact: he's upheld biking to UGM every day!
But instead of coming to fill his own stomach, he now prepares dignifying meals, and feeds life-changing hope to the next person who sits down at UGM's table
Thank you for your generosity. It's not just saving lives, it's rebuilding them. If you ever want to come and see what UGM is all about, you're welcome in my kitchen.