Thanksgiving is coming early this year for struggling men in the Downtown Eastside.
Members of the Dudes’ club (Downtown Urban Knights Defending Equality and Solidarity) at the Vancouver Native Health Society are being served turkey and all the fixings Oct. 10.
Restaurant Joe Fortes is funding the dinner and its executive chef Wayne Sych and sous chef Ryan Green are donating their time to cook for the approximately 100 underprivileged men from Dudes. For Sych, pitching in at the Native Health Society for this event was a no-brainer.
“I think this is just something that is really important because there isn’t obviously a huge budget for these gentlemen to eat on a daily basis at the centre so for us it is really just a way of making sure they have a turkey dinner that they wouldn’t normally get,” he said.
Vancouver Native Health Society volunteer, and former co-owner of Joe Fortes, Dotty Kanke, agrees this type of feast is not something these men are used to. All the men who come to the twice-monthly Thursday night gatherings at the Native Heath Society centre struggle with medical and financial problems. The vast majority have a history of physical and emotional trauma, suffer from addictions or mental illness and many are HIV positive. None of the men has a regular family doctor.
According to Kanke, in many ways the Dudes gatherings are typical of any get-together of friends. Sometimes the guys eat and watch hockey and other times they play bingo or practice tai chi. What isn’t typical of most guys nights is that there is always a doctor present to answer questions or provide care as needed, said Kanke.
Unlike traditional medical treatment facilities, the men don’t need a care card or identification to access services and the environment is non-threatening. The group’s attending physician, Dr. Paul Gross, is laid back and engaging and so sets the men at ease, said Kanke.
“Most of the clinics these guys would go to would have bars on the windows and security guards. We have none of that,” she said.
An elder also attends the meetings to be a spiritual leader and guide. One of the main goals of the group is to foster self-esteem in men who often come in beaten down by events of their pasts. The men control the meetings by deciding what they want to talk about and do.
The group started when a nurse at the Vancouver Native Health Society noticed that there wasn’t a drop-in exclusively for struggling men in the city. Initially there were 10 guys, but once word spread the group mushroomed to its current 80 members.
Having this big Thanksgiving dinner will be a nice reprieve from the everyday challenges the men tackle.
“Some of them would never have a Thanksgiving dinner and it is amazing,” Kanke said. “You get a group of guys and there is lots of tears in their eyes and it is very emotional for them often because they would haven’t have an opportunity to have a turkey dinner unless they stood in a line up some place … and they probably wouldn’t be with the guys they meet with every couple of weeks.”
For more information on the Vancouver Native Health Society and its programs go to www.vnhs.net.
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