James Harry is no stranger to the back alleys and mean streets on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Originally from the Haisla Nation in Northern B.C., he spent many years downtown before he, along with his wife, both got sober. They now dedicate their lives to helping others lead a better life.
Along with helping others get into treatment – he started a lunch program at the beginning of the pandemic and says its now grown into something much larger.
“It just started out like 12 lunches,” he told APTN News. “The wife and I during the pandemic, the start of the pandemic and we made 12 canned salmon sandwiches we bought some bananas and some juice handed them out.
“Word got out next thing families were bored at home they were baking bread, banana bread making sandwiches we got one of our youth donating their own money to buy snacks for us.”
Every Wednesday, more than a dozen volunteers gather near the infamous intersection of Main and Hastings Street- an area of the city where drugs and crime are rampant.
Harry explains it’s not just about getting a free lunch but an opportunity to inspire others.
“We hope that people that receive and feel the love that has gone into this and we hope it kickstarts their healing journey we thank you for our volunteers and what they do for the downtown,” he says.
As the volunteers roll out with the bagged lunches – people on the streets express their appreciation –
“Thank you, brother man, I appreciate what you guys are doing and you are doing an awesome job keep up the good work,” says one man.
Charlie Morrison is one of the volunteers. He attended the former residential school in Port Alberni, B.C.
He says he is really proud to help others.
“Even helping James out it’s a big thing for me because I’ve been sober for 37 years now and that’s a big plus for me especially being a survivor because I could’ve been out on the streets like the people we are helping, that could have been me there,” says Morrison fighting back tears.
“That’s really emotional.”
Ernest Edgar Jr. and his best friend Donovan Bolton look forward to the lunches every week.
“A lot of us down here are hurting but because there is so much help down here I used to do drugs but I am stopping now I’m sobering up and it’s because of these guys- it’s a lot of help,” says Edgar Jr.
For Harry the message is simple.
“This is just a little bit of love to carry on their day to know they are not forgotten,” he says.
What started with just 12 lunches has now bloomed into 280 lunches every Wednesday and now corporate donations are pouring in.