Being hungry sucks.
“You ever been hungry? You know what that feels like? Unacceptable,” said social entrepreneur Mark Brand, during his incredibly moving TEDxVancouver talk, The Impact of an Unconventional Solution (see below).
It’s hard to focus on anything else when you're hungry. It’s hard to make good decisions, it’s hard to be positive, and it can even be hard to be kind, when you’re absolutely starving.
Now add to that equation the fact that you have no roof over your head, no support system, and it’s cold and rainy. Maybe you’re even struggling with mental health or addiction issues.
The Impact of an Unconventional Solution
If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’ve never experienced this unacceptable scenario, I haven’t either, but the thought of it is heartbreaking and a reality for way too many people – way too many people right here in our community.
Brand is Working to Turn Things Around in His Hood
Brand is working ridiculously, unwaveringly hard to turn this reality around, and he's starting where he lives and works in Vancouver’s downtown eastside (DTES) – his businesses include Save On Meats, Portside Pub, The Diamond, Boneta, Sea Monstr Sushi, Sharks and Hammers, and the newly opened pop-up restaurant No. 1 Noodle House.
I had the honour of attending the launch of his latest venture, A Better Life Foundation, on May 25, 2013 at the Vancouver Art Gallery (who generously donated the space), with partners Vancouver Community College, Donnelly Group and brand.LIVE providing delicious food, drinks, and event production, respectively.
This is Our City to Fix
Mark Brand, centre, with Preet Banerjee, right, and Elliott Hashimoto, corporate chef for Mark Brand Inc. (Image: Wendy D Photography)
“We need to invest in the people that are our community,” said Brand during the launch party, after being introduced by event host Preet Banerjee, whom he met on the TV show Million Dollar Neighbourhood. “This is our city to fix.”
A Better Life Foundation is investing in the community by providing more than 500 residents of the DTES with a nutritious meal every day, and plans to offer more help as the charity receives more donations.
A Better Life Foundation Hopes to Feed 1,500 People Every Day
Speaking to The Rush host Fiona Forbes and guest host Grant Lawrence in early May, Brand said, “The charity works specifically to do our barrier employment program – for clarification that’s people with developmental disabilities or coming out of rehab or simply kids who can’t get another shot because they’ve been to jail, etcetera – and then this program [details about the token program here], which can expand, and then our meal program that we’re hoping to expand to 1,500 [per day].”
Building community is an integral part of Brand’s personal philosophy. “You know what it feels like to be part of a community? There is no feeling like it,” said Brand at TEDxVancouver. “There’s nothing like knowing your neighbours and knowing you’re working towards a common goal.”
Building Community One Meal At a Time
“The simple act of making sure that your belly is full in the morning makes a huge difference,” says Banerjee, sitting next to Brand during a promotional video for the foundation (see above).
“The fact is,” says Brand, “if you have that one meal in your belly, that does get you through the most important part of your day, that you’re more prone to reach out to a social service, or a service that gets you into rehabilitation or into employment or into that next step in your life where you go further forward.”
In the same segment of The Rush as mentioned previously, Forbes asked Brand something I was curious about too: “Why do you do this? You’re a businessman, you don’t have to have to make these tokens and feed people, you don’t have to do what you did with the sign [details about the sign here]. Why do you?”
We Can Be Catalysts For Positive Change, Says Brand
“I love it,” replies Brand. “I truthfully really love our city and our neighbourhood and I think that we can be catalysts for positive change. I know we have been already. And I don’t mind fighting the fights, is the other part. I think people come and they foray into social entrepreneurship, you know, it’s hard, most of the time you’re funded just enough to fail."
"I’m born to have these fights and arguments and discourse, and I think if I can do it and sort of forge some more path, then people will come behind and go, ‘I can do this, I do love this neighbourhood, I do want to help.’”
One Person Can Inspire Change in a Community
A Better Life Foundation's Mark Brand. (Image: Wendy D Photography)
Driving along East Hastings Street or walking through Gastown and seeing the poverty, pain and suffering can feel very overwhelming, to the point of feeling totally helpless.
But hearing Brand’s story and witnessing his evolution as a social entrepreneur has helped me see that one person can absolutely inspire change in a community, with actions large or small – whether it's giving someone a chance when no one else will, participating in fundraising efforts, giving someone a sandwich token, or just offering them a smile.
Check out A Better Life Foundation’s initiatives, goals, outlook and values, below.
For more information on the foundation or to give a charitable donation, visit abetterlifefoundation.ca.
A Better Life Foundation’s Initiatives and Goals
1. Provide meals to those in need.
2. Facilitate acquisition of relevant skills training and work experience to those with employment barriers.
3. Provide an educational and job readiness programs that equip individuals for success.
4. Provide outreach and referral programs that provide encouragement and support.
5. Provide and maintain a high quality working environment that integrates teaching, learning, and community engagement.
A Better Life Foundation’s Outlook and Values
1. PARTICIPATION – We strive to facilitate programs that increase participation, community involvement, and mutual responsibility.
2. HEALTHY COMMUNITIES – We strive to support the community we serve by being attentive of its needs and values, creating innovative food and employment programs that address these needs and respect these values.
3. INNOVATION – We aim to be a part of a larger discussion around food provision and sustainability in Vancouver by partnering with a diverse group of organizations to find unconventional solutions to prevalent social issues.
4. DIVERSITY – We value diversity and are devoted to equal, dignified treatment of all individuals – respecting diversity through inclusion of all persons in our programs and services.
5. EQUALITY – We incorporate practices in our daily actions that address the issue of equality, by recognizing the power dynamics that are negatively affecting individuals wellbeing.
6. SUSTAINABILITY – We strive to facilitate sustainable change by working in collaboration with a diverse range of organizations, creating innovative self sustaining programs.
7. ACCEPTANCE – We value acceptance – promoting individual’s ability to pursue chosen goals in life by respecting diversity.
8. COLLABORATION – We value collaboration therefore we work collectively with community members and organizations to form long lasting supportive relationships to promote the wellbeing of the DTES.