An initiative to help residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) with roots in the Bonaparte Band near Clinton will celebrate its fifth anniversary in January 2021, but it will look a little different.
For the past four years, the Helping Our Urban K’wséltkten (Family) Indigenous feast (HOUK) has provided Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents of the DTES with traditional First Nations food such as moose stew, and essentials like warm socks and gloves.
However, Johnny Perry — a Bonaparte Band member who has worked for Vancouver Native Housing for years, and is one of the event’s co-founders — says this feast has had to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19.
The usual drop-in, sit-down dinner, for instance, won’t happen in 2021.
“We were a little leery about doing a feast and getting people together,” he explains.
Former Bonaparte Kukpi7 (Chief) Ryan Day — another of the feast’s founders — suggested they take it to the streets instead.
“It’s about connecting with people, and we can do it safely on the street and reach people. We’ll be handing out bags of goodies, whether that be traditional foods, toiletries, or warm clothes. They’ll get a bag of sweet treats and a voucher for a meal at the Evelyn Saller Centre.”
The centre, on the outskirts of the DTES, is subsidized by the City of Vancouver, and is one of the DTES hubs.
“People can do free laundry there, get haircuts, get meals. Dinner, for example, is soup or salad, entrée, dessert, and coffee or tea, all for $2. With just three Toonies, you can feed three people.”
Perry and others have raised more than $6,000 meal vouchers, bottles of water and snacks for the DTES residents.
“Over the summer, when COVID-19 first hit, we said ‘We have to do something for our people, we can’t let them hang out until January when we do the feast.’ The need is all year, not just at Christmas,” Perry said.
Water and fresh fruit are appreciated by DTES residents, he said.
“People say ‘I haven’t had berries in so long.’ Raspberries are a luxury for people. And there are a limited number of water fountains in the DTES, especially with COVID-19, so people really appreciated bottles of water.
The focus has now turned to the January feast, and what that will look like. Donations of traditional foods are down this year, but Perry was back at Bonaparte in August and canned peaches, as well as more than 100 jars of salmon, which is one of his contributions. Day chopped and split wood and did a draw, with the winner getting the firewood delivered, and raised $1,000 toward meal vouchers.
“That was great and gave us a little push. I know people want to donate, but they need to take care of their families first. I get that. It’s been challenging for us this year because people are obviously not in a great financial state.
“Now’s not the time to give up on our folks. They need the love and kindness right now, and with everyone doing their part we’ll get there.”
Perry says simple donations of warm socks and gloves demonstrate that love and kindness.
“Those are two things we really need. The demand is really great at this time of year.”
The fifth HOUK event will probably take place around the weekend of Jan. 16.
“It’s been really challenging for everyone, but there are lessons in there about taking care of each other more,” he said. “That’s what it really comes down to.”