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Early Christmas luncheon at Surrey Urban Mission spreads ‘holiday cheer’

Hundreds of people attended a Christmas luncheon at the Surrey Urban Mission in Whalley, B.C., on Tuesday — the first of what the shelter hopes will become an annual tradition and the inspiration for other similar gatherings.

Jack O’Halloran, CEO of the charity, said the team already has plans for a summer barbecue, with the need for food and shelter continuing to rise in the Metro Vancouver city.

“We’ve seen, just in 2023, over 650 people in our shelters,” he told Global News. “Just this past November, we served over 6,000 meals in our shelters.”

Those aren’t the only disturbing statistics the Surrey Urban Mission has taken note of. Twenty per cent of guests are over the age of 55, 20 per cent are Indigenous and 20 per cent are immigrants, O’Halloran added.

“Certainly, we’ve got people in need, people that need our help, people that need the viewers’ help in donations,” he said.

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“We talk easily about ‘the homeless population,’ but homeless is somebody’s daughter, is somebody’s son, could have been a parent — so I think once we give homelessness a face and we work together, not in our silos, all the different agencies … with the government to help with the public’s help, then I think you start to see the difference happen.”

Jesse Kozak, a lunch guest on Tuesday, said the event is spreading much-needed “holiday cheer” to those experiencing homelessness or other mental health and addictions challenges.

“My mother died when I was 19 and then drugs started to take over my life, and my dad wasn’t home half the time because he worked,” he told Global News.

“I worked … for about nine years at a garbage coming and after that, it just fell apart in the last four years.”

The 34-year-old said gatherings like the one at the Whalley shelter give him hope that other young folks will be able to exit the “trap” and find housing and work.

Pensioner Barry Fedow said the meal means he won’t “go hungry.”

“I have too many bills to pay,” he said. “It’s merry Christmas here.”

Surrey RCMP Cpl. Scotty Schumann, who works on mental health outreach team, said 80 per cent of his clients live in Whalley. It’s hard to tell whether an uptick in calls is related to population growth or more difficult circumstances, he added.

“We’re actually here every day and many of these people I would call my friend,” Schumann said of the Surrey Urban Mission location. “It’s really humbling for a police officer to be invited to an event like this.”

Across the charity’s four locations in Surrey, volunteers served more than 37,000 meals between January and November.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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