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From served to serving: one man shares how this Easter will be much different since finding housing at UGM

For the last five years Glen Bannister, 55, has enjoyed the Union Gospel Mission Easter dinner as a community member, relying on nutritional as well as other levels of support provided by the Mission. This year, Glen is housed in UGM’s low-income housing and is thriving. On Saturday, April 4, it will be his first time volunteering to help provide and serve the 3,000 meals—and he couldn’t be more thrilled.

Five years ago Glen was employed at the top of his field as a life-long painter, but he soon found himself uncharacteristically lethargic and depressed and saw a doctor. He was not prepared for what he would learn—his liver and immune system were greatly compromised as he was diagnosed with Toxic Painter’s Syndrome. He had to quit working immediately.

With no savings, and transitioning welfare, Glen had no choice but to live in the only part of town where a room rents for $385—the Downtown Eastside.

“I was living in an SRO and it was disgusting. Bugs everywhere, blood in the bathrooms, needles in the hallways and some really nasty people were around. I mostly kept to myself.”

Glen could barely believe the shift his life had taken, as his younger years had seemed so promising both academically and athletically. Though he had skipped grades two and eight and excelled at lacrosse, he was unable to mentally escape the darkness of his childhood and left home at 15. Within a few years he’d started a thriving painting business and played professional lacrosse with the Calgary Shamrocks, but as an adult, adventure mixed with binge drugs and alcohol quickly consumed any savings for his future.

In order to make ends meet, Glen came to UGM for meals as well as emotional and spiritual support. “I’d always come and talk to pastor Matt and he would help and encourage me,” he says. “When he learned where I was living he’d invite me to live at UGM, but I wasn’t ready then.”

In 2012, after a stroke scare, Glen enrolled in Teen Challenge, a year-long recovery program in Abbotsford. He came back to the Downtown Eastside, but with some more recovery time under his belt, and a deep desire to move forward, in July 2014, he took up Matt’s offer and moved into UGM’s 601 Hastings facility.

“All my life I felt judged,” he says. “When my brother found out I was adopted, he told everyone in our neighbourhood. When I would go to play with kids to join their team they would say ‘oh no, no adopted kids allowed.’ But I never once felt judged at UGM. That was huge for me. I’d never felt this acceptance my whole life. It’s amazing.”

Now with safe and clean housing, Glen, who is well-travelled, reflects on holiday times in the community.

“I’ve stayed in Skid Row in dozens of other countries, and I thought I could never stay on Skid Row in Vancouver,” he says. “But I did end up there and I was shocked to find more humanity here than in the suburbs. People seem to get into the holidays here, and I love being a part of that. Personally, my favorite holiday is Easter.”

EVENT DETAILS

WHEN Saturday, April 4th; Doors open at 10:00am, meals served at 10:30am until 4:30pm

WHERE Main location: 601 East Hastings, Vancouver (@ Princess Street)

OTHER LOCATIONS Women and Families Centre: 616 East Cordova

UGM New Westminster: 658 Clarkson St. (doors open at noon)

THE MEAL

  •       2,500 lbs of ham
  •       900 lbs of scalloped potatoes
  •       270 litres of pineapple sauce
  •       750 lbs of mixed vegetables
  •       600 apple pies
  •       400 litres of ice cream
  •       350 dozen buttered buns

MEAL PREP VISUALS

Thursday, April 2

  • Culinary experts from across Vancouver will be carving the Easter ham (8:45 am – 11:30 am)
  • Involves about 10-14 volunteers from Joey’s, Fairmont Hotel, Noodlebox, Delta Suites Vancouver and Vancouver Community College’s culinary school

*Feel free to contact us about filming or photographing other meal preparations throughout the final week.

UNIQUE THIS YEAR

  • Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory  has donated 6,000 chocolate truffles, beautifully prepared in a box of two for each guests, making the holiday that much sweeter.

Union Gospel Mission has been feeding hope and changing lives of men, women, youth, and children for 75 years. Through its seven locations in Metro Vancouver and the city of Mission, UGM provides counselling, education, safe housing, and alcohol and drug recovery to those struggling with poverty, homelessness, and addiction. The heart of the mission is to demonstrate God’s transforming love, ease the burden of the most vulnerable, rebuild the lives of the broken, and offer dignity to those who feel cast aside. To learn more, visit www.ugm.ca.

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