Mark Brand, owner of the remodeled Save on Meats in the DTES, has teamed up with Village&Co to help feed the homeless over the winter months.
Brand, has sunk a ton of money into the building at 43 West Hastings—an institution since 1957—kept the neon sign, and restored the butcher shop, bakery and diner. He’s also employing the unemployable, installed a roof top garden to grow produce, and created a type of currency to feed the homeless.
The “currency” is a token that can only be exchanged for food at his diner. He kicked off the program at the end of November thinking he might sell a thousand, and sold 5,000 in the first 10 days. His reasoning is that give money or bus passes or gift cards and 90 percent of the time it’s turned into drugs, booze or cigarettes. It’s a big reason that people won’t give handouts.
“All it is, is giving somebody a sandwich, it’s really black and white,” he told me. “What’s really important to me is being able to create the conversation between the affluent and the people who are struggling. The token has to be handed to someone. You are not doing a random donation you have to look somebody in the face and give it to them.”
Village&Co took the concept into the digital sphere. Whenever someone clicks on the hashtag #shareameal on any social platform, the agency attaches a Save on Meats sandwich token worth $2.25—to the office Christmas tree.
On December 31, the tokens will be donated to the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, where they will feed as many people as possible in January—a time when the homeless become invisible again. Village&Co was founded a couple of years ago by Justin Young and Nora Ahern who were making big bucks in a large ad agency in the better part of town. Now they run a small social media shop on the edge of Chinatown.
Brand received national attention in November when he appeared on CBC’s “The Big Decision” and Arlene Dickinson invested $250,000 into his business.
He is not without his critics. They say he’s part of the problem—he’s making the area trendy again and increasing rents and prices for the poor. He’s also accused of making money off the tokens—many which will never be redeemed.
Personally I don’t have a problem with this, he should be making money. No, he’s not going to fix the systemic problems of the DTES, but he’s not going to hurt them either. And at the very least he is offering an easy way for the rest of us to support the downtrodden of the area.
Eve Lazarus is a writer with a passion for history and heritage houses. She is the author of At Home with History: the secrets of Greater Vancouver’s Heritage Houses and blogs obsessively about buildings and their genealogies at www.blog.evelazarus.com. Her latest book Sensational Victoria: bright lights, red lights, murders, ghosts & gardens was recently launched!