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For all media inquiries, please contact Nadia Tchoumi, Manager – Media Relations and Communications, at 604 996 1417 or [email protected]

UGM To Serve 2000 Easter Meals Amid COVID-19 Third Wave

(Vancouver) – When Virginia Whalen was serving swanky dishes at one of the three restaurants she once owned, the 63-year-old never imagined that a struggle with homelessness would eventually lead her to a new calling during an urgent crisisserving Easter hope in the Downtown Eastside, during the third wave of a deadly pandemic.

“People have lost hope. They're scared. They don't know from one day to the next, where they're going to be or if this pandemic is ever going to end,” Virginia shares. “That’s why we need to be here on Easter, showing that there is hope amidst the suffering. I remember what it was like to feel like no one could possibly understand how badly I was hurting.” 

Whalen spent her formative years earning a degree in Interior Design, training as a chef in Italy, travelling the world and becoming a successful hotelier, restaurant owner and entrepreneur. Despite the outward appearance of fulfillment, Whalen struggled with alcohol addiction and a deep sense that something was missing from her life. Her successes began to unravel until Whalen found herself isolated, living in her car, and fearful that she may die alone during a life and death struggle with alcohol poisoning. Miraculously, she survived and, after detox, entered UGM’s The Sanctuarya stabilization program for women and moms with babies. Now, four years later, she’ll be back at UGM to share her story and help serve hundreds of Easter Meals on Saturday, April 3rd, to others struggling with homelessness, poverty and addiction.

“I know that there is hope,” says Whalen. “But we can’t get through this lifeor addictionalone.  We need people in our court reminding us that we can get through this.”

In line with UGM’s pandemic plan, the organization has completely changed how it will serve  meals in order to safeguard against COVID-19. Pandemic protocols include but are not limited to:

  • A limited number of staff, wearing personal protective equipment, will serve meals ‘to go’ out the door, rather than gathering hundreds of people inside its dining hall
  • Up to 2000 meals ‘to go’ will be served over the course of several days across multiple locations  - rather than serving up to 3,000 meals on one day at our main building
  • Whereas typical major meal events require more than 100 volunteers and dozens more staff, only a handful of staff and volunteers will be present at one time.
  • Social distancing will be followed to ensure safety
  • Masks will be available to guests who request one at our reception, along with hand sanitizer
  • Sanitization procedures are stepped up to keep guests, residents and staff safe
  • Health recommendations followed. 
  • More COVID-19 protocols found here.

“Virginia’s story reminds us all that we are better together—and that there is immense hope in starting fresh,” says UGM’s Jeremy Hunka. “We know this pandemic has been indescribably difficultbut the finish line is on the horizon, and we need to stick through this together, feeding hope along the way.”


Date:             Saturday, April 3rd 2021
Time:            Media wishing to attend are asked to arrive no later than 10:25am
Where:         601 East Hastings, Vancouver (@ Princess), following pandemic safety protocols including:

  • Please RSVP to [email protected].ca before arriving
  • Upon arrival to 601 E Hastings, please do not enter the UGM building. Instead, please set up on the West side of Princess Street, near the picnic tables, where interviews will be conducted. We’ll be there to greet you! 
  • Easter Meals will be served ‘to go’ through the drop-in doors. We respectfully ask you to adhere to social distancing recommendations to protect and respect our guests


  • 1300+ lbs of Ham
  • 425 lbs Scalloped Potatoes
  • 150-160 l Gravy 
  • 400 lbs Vegetables
  • 400 Pies

Jeremy Hunka
Cell: 604-996-1417
[email protected] 

Nicole Mucci
Cell: (778) 999-3985
[email protected] 

Union Gospel Mission has been feeding hope and changing the lives of men, women, youth, and children for more than 80 years. Through its eight locations in Metro Vancouver and the city of Mission, UGM provides emergency shelter, meals, outreach, career development counselling, education, safe and affordable housing, addiction recovery, and much more to those struggling with poverty, homelessness and addiction. The heart of UGM is to demonstrate God’s transforming love, ease the burden of those who are vulnerable, and come alongside people who feel cast aside. To learn more, visit

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