Walking along an unassuming street in Mount Pleasant, you might find yourself wondering why people are lining up outside a Hindu temple on a Sunday afternoon.
For the past 21 years, the congregation of Shree Mahalakshmi temple has been serving a free lunch that’s open to the public.
“Earlier there were only the temple members who came,” says wife of a temple priest Rukmini Prameya, “but as of late, in the last…six, eight, or 10 [years], a lot of Caucasians [have] started to come. It’s nice that they enjoy the food.”
Coordinating food procurement and preparation, in addition to serving the lunch is no small feat, but Prameya notes that those who volunteer are pleased to do so.
“Giving is very important in Hinduism; we believe that from morning to evening you’re supposed to do at least five kinds of charity,” she says. “ Of these five charities, the best is charity in the form of food. Out of everything else that you could give, for example money, it never satisfies a person to their limit. But with food, you have satisfied the person completely, so that’s the concept.”
Akali Singh Sikh Temple is another congregation that provides meals to anyone in need, regardless of caste, class or creed.
Dinner at the temple is open to the public from 6 to 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday, every week.
Approximately 100 to 150 people are served nightly by volunteers.
Rattan Singh Girn, president of the Akali Singh Sikh Society says that providing the service falls within a longstanding Sikh tradition.
“Each and every Sikh temple [Gurdwara Sahib] provides cooked food for anyone in need,” says Girn, “…[it is] a tradition [that was] started by our first guru, Nanak Dev Ji.”
Referred to as langar, the community meal is open to everyone and is considered a symbol of social equality. In keeping with the notion of inclusivity, all the food served is vegetarian to ensure that everyone can enjoy it, regardless of dietary restriction.
Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Vancouver also has a generous food program that is open to all members of the public.
Sandwiches, coffee, and baked goods are distributed to individuals or families on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday around 11 a.m. at the cathedral doors.
Recipients are invited inside for soup on Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the cold winter months, from October to May.
Similar to Shree Mahalakshmi and Akali Singh Sikh Temple, the doors at Christ Church Cathedral are open to everyone.
“We give to anybody who comes to the door,” says volunteer Diane Jeffries.
“Whether they’re working poor, people on the road, or the regulars that have been coming over time. It’s all volunteer run and we make the sandwiches on the premises as per Vancouver Health regulations.”
“The cost of the bread, fillings, and meat is covered by the congregation. The soup is made on the premises too, and a lot of the ingredients come from the congregation at Thanksgiving, with donations covering the rest.”
While the cathedral has had a food program for a number of years, the present incarnation has been around for five.
“It [the program] uses a great many people from the cathedral to make sandwiches we usually have twelve to fifteen people, and every day that we serve there are two volunteers,” says Jeffries. “On soup days there are many more volunteers each working two hour shifts.”
The idea behind the program is the Christian tenet of serving the poor and needy.
“It’s part of our philosophy of having an open door, and also of eating a meal together,” explains Jeffries.
“Although some people keep to themselves when they come in for a bowl of soup, many find it very comforting to talk to someone, either with each other, or with the volunteers.”
No matter what one’s economic situation or religious bent, the spirit of giving is alive and well year-round in Vancouver.