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Equality is the Core of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Free Kitchen

Guru Nanak's kitchen welcomes all.

 
It is busy in the Life Skills Centre's lobby this morning. Residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside have come to watch a movie, meet with friends, talk with a support worker or do some laundry. The combination of it all is loud and chaotic.

The scent of homemade Indian food drifts into the lobby, luring people into Guru Nanak's Free Kitchen for their fix of food and laughter.

Balloons are scattered throughout the room. Everyone is drinking out of vibrant, rainbow-coloured cups.

The white, boxy room could come off as sterile and cold without these colours dispersed throughout the room, but what really makes Guru Nanak's Free Kitchen feel so warm and welcoming are the people who fill it.

There is no long line-up of people impatiently waiting to get their food.

At this free kitchen people wait in a small line, chatting amongst themselves or to the volunteers.

Guru Nanak's volunteers speak to them no differently than they would speak to someone wearing a suit and tie.

After the homeless patrons have filled their trays with food, they sit down on one of the rows of carpets lined up against the wall and in the midle of the room.

Since November 2007, the Sikh community has united for five days every month to serve free traditional Indian food in the Downtown East- side, and now they offer take-out on Sundays as well.

Jas Duhra has taken a day off work as a bus driver to volunteer as a coordinator. He began volunteering at the free kitchen in August and does not think twice about taking the time out of his busy schedule to be here.

"People are hungry. Bottom line: they need food," he said.

"We're here to serve the community. It doesn't matter what their situation is, whether they're a drug-addict or whatever," said Duhra. "You shouldn't judge anyone."

The kitchen is open all day long. Cooks begin preparing the food at 5 a.m. and other volunteers serve the downtown require the homeless to go to religious services before the food is served.

Guru Nanak's Free Kitchen is operated by volunteers, and people of all faiths are welcome to eat or volunteer.

The event is inspired by the Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism and "Langar," is the Sikh word for communal kitchens.

It is customary in the Sikh religion to feed people who cannot afford food.

The main concept behind Guru Nanak's kitchen is that everyone is equal. "We're all God's children," said Duhra, who follows the teachings of Sikhism.

Shane Turner, managing director of the PHS Peer initiatives, works at the Life Skills Centre and provides services for the Downtown Eastside. Turner said that members of the Downtown Eastside community "build up barriers" because of the traumas in their lives, which result in prejudice.

Racial tensions are not an issue inside the free kitchen, the way they might be on the streets. Turner said that being in a multi-cultural setting where everyone is equal shows residents of the Downtown Eastside that "we're all working together, not against each other."

Some faith-oriented free kitchens downtown require the homeless to go to religious services before the food is served.

Turner said that pushing religious views can turn a lot of needy people away. At Guru Nanak's Free Kitchen, they will discuss their religious views if they are asked.

Dennis Gates, a resident of the Downtown Eastside, sits on a chair towards the back of the room, his cane beside him.
"The food is great and the people are friendly," he said. "I think it's important for everyone to have a chance to get to know other cultures."

According to the most recent Free Meals List for Vancouver, the only other traditional ethnic meal that is served for free is at the Gold Buddha Monastery, which serves a vegetarian meal on the last Sunday of every month.

For more information see www.gurunanaksfreekitchen.com


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