Union Gospel Mission – Christmas Eve
I decided to have dinner at the Union Gospel Mission for a second time. This time, there were no tents set up outside. When I arrived, I had to wait in the bread line for over an hour. While I was waiting for the bread line to open, a man came up to everybody and said “if you were to die today, would you go to heaven or hell?” This man then smiled, handed out a brochure and responded to his own question by saying: “Read this. This is the way to heaven”. When he asked me, I told him that I was already there. He gave me the brochure and walked off without asking whether I meant heaven or hell.
I have to admit, the bread line is amazing. Once it was my turn, I had a lot to choose from. I was given bread, pastries, brownies, and croissants to take with me. They were generously handing out full bags of food to everyone. I had to stop them from giving me more food. Some people walked off with five or six bags full of groceries. My bag should last me throughout my stay in the downtown eastside, which is why I stopped them from giving me more food.
When the bread line was finished, a new line up formed; this line was for dinner. The dinner lineup moved much quicker. Then we were all gathered in a small room that seated about 60 people. The priest, his family and some of his local church members started singing us Christmas carols. The guy sitting next to me had a Bible in his hand and was praying attentively, others were not as keen.
After the songs were finished, the priest made us watch a 20-minute documentary of the Bible. This video was a condensed version of the bible from start to finish. Some of the details were completely new to me. I started eating some of my bread. I couldn’t wait any longer; I was starving. Once the movie was finished, dinner was served.
Next, we moved to the cafeteria. There the tables had food served. On the menu today was BBQ pulled pork with mashed potatoes. While everybody around me was discussing how delicious their food was, I was starting to feel sick from it. Pork is a very heavy meat to digest for a vegetarian. I never said it was good or bad; I just kept my head down and ate what I could eat.
I started chatting with some of the people sitting next to me. One man said that he had been homeless in other parts of Canada in the past and that Vancouver is one of the best cities to be homeless. According to him, the homeless here are treated kindly and are taken care of. He also added that the food at the UGM is slightly better than what they serve in jail. I am assuming he had experience in saying this or else he wouldn’t have said it.
One of the staff members shouted “Few more minutes to finish your food!” We were all ordered to finish our meals quickly. I was shocked. I thought this place was about connecting to others spiritually? Isn’t this a great time to share our spiritual beliefs? We sat in the other room for half an hour listening to carols and watching a movie, but we are not given enough time to finish our meals? I was later told that this place worked like an assembly line. The cafeteria needs to be cleared for the next group to enter. However, tonight this place has to be cleared out quickly and early, so that it can turn into a shelter at night.
People started leaving. Being a slow eater myself, this added pressure prohibited me from finishing my meal. I looked over to my left and noticed that there was a man eating a completely vegetarian dish! I smiled at him in disbelief and confessed that I was breaking my year-and-a-half-long habit as of yesterday. He smiled and we started a conversation, his name was Jay.