A Surrey woman is urging people to look within their own community for opportunities to give back.
Marie Isaac has been volunteering at Gracepoint Church in South Surrey on Sundays for the past six years, providing nourishing meals to those in need, and now she is encouraging people to follow suit.
“It’s a joy. I get great delight out of doing it,” Isaac said in the church’s kitchen, while preparing for another Sunday dinner.
“For me, service is an integral part of life. People who don’t see a need or don’t even understand serving, I think they lose a lot and they don’t even realize what they lost.”
The petite cook, who also has a catering business, says one of the biggest problems with the Sunday meals – provided to diners for no charge – is potential volunteers simply don’t know about it, and end up leaving the community to perform their public service.
“People often run downtown to help out with the Union Gospel Mission or the Salvation Army and those are wonderful agencies, and I support them fully, but why not stay home and help out in your own neighbourhood?” Isaac said.
The dinners, which have been run by the church for more than 15 years, have provided hearty, home-cooked meals, including roast beef, roast pork and chicken cacciatore, to people from all over Metro Vancouver, Isaac said. Since she began volunteering, Isaac has met people who come from as far as North Vancouver and Richmond to fill their bellies.
“When you’re on assistance in B.C., you receive a bus pass, and with no work, people really make this their life,” Isaac said. “They know on Sunday they can come here and get something to eat, and then on Tuesday they go somewhere else.”
Despite having people coming to the King George Boulevard service from all over the region, she said there is a sense of camaraderie when everyone sits down to dig in. According to Isaac, many even have their own “spot” to sit in, just like at family dinners.
“They are very traditional, if this is the table they are sitting at today, they will sit at it next week,” Isaac said. “They develop a social bond with the people they eat with.”
That bond is especially important, she noted.
Many who have walked through the doors at Gracepoint have talked to Isaac about their loneliness, Isaac said. Some lack community support because of personal issues – including mental health problems and addiction – but by having a place to come every Sunday, there is a sense of belonging, she said.
“It’s really changed their lives, maybe not financially, but they have developed friendships and have learned that people actually care about them,” Isaac said.
“Those of us who consider ourselves ‘normal’ won’t talk to someone who is different because we’re afraid, and I can appreciate that, but I think the people we serve encounter a lot of that.”
More than 200 people from all walks of life can show up on any given Sunday, Isaac said. And while she and the volunteers love what they do, she admits it’s hard to come up with the funds for the dinners. Although the church picks up the slack for the food and supplies, the dinners do require financial support from the community, she said.
In previous years, companies have stepped in and helped fund some of the dinners, which have been a great help, said Isaac, but there needs to be more support.
“Six years ago, when I took over leadership for the dinners, I was able to feed people a good roast beef dinner for less than $3, but now it costs $5,” Isaac said. “With the rising cost of food, the cost of electricity and appliance maintenance, we do need help.”
With community support, Isaac said she will be able to focus on the more important things: ensuring that the people who come leave with a full stomach and a smile – including her volunteers.
“We often have people who come up after and say, ‘Wow, we had a ball, it was fun and we got to help someone.’ And that’s the big thing, we are helping other people and taking care of the needs of the less fortunate.”
Sunday dinners at Gracepoint Church, 3487 King George Blvd., begin at 5 p.m.