Hannah Lee works on decorating her Christmas lunch bag at Yennadon elementary on Tuesday.

Yennadon helping feed Hungry Spirits

Maple Ridge students are Feeding Hungry Spirits in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside this Christmas

Handing out lunches on the Downtown Eastside made an impression on a Maple Ridge sixth grader.

Chantal Bronswyk admits she had some trepidation at first when her family got involved with the charity Feeding Hungry Spirits last December. It took the volunteers to an area stricken by poverty, drug use, the sex trade and desperate people.

“They were kind of scary. I didn’t quite feel safe at first, but eventually I got used to it,” she said.

And the reaction from the people on the streets made her job easier. She would hand them a paper lunch bag, decorated with Christmas themes by students. Inside was a sandwich, a bag of chips and some fruit or vegetables. A family friend had knitted a lot of toques and mittens, so she had them to hand out, as well.

“Their faces lit up – they were happy and smiling,” said Chantal. “It made me feel warm inside.”

It was a day that made her more aware of the plight of people, many drug addicted and mentally ill, who are forced to live on the streets.

“I just think they really need help. You never know what’s going to happen to them.”

Her mother, Amanda, got involved in the charity, which was started by longtime friend Lisa Gregory. The Surrey mom was packing a school lunch into her son’s backpack, when a foul pong made her inspect the pack further. Inside she found four old and rotting lunches inside. Like most mom’s, she lectured the boy. Unlike most, that Christmas she made him take $50 from his bank account, use it to make lunches, and then hand out to needy people, Vinny is still handing them out, but he’s now joined by a lot of people.

Feeding Hungry Spirits inspires families to get involved – like the Bronswyks. Last year, the fourth for the event, there were 1,800 lunches made, and they were handed out along with dry socks, toques, mittens and other items.

“But we ran out of time to decorate the lunch bags,” said Amanda. “And that’s the personal touch.”

Chantal told her teacher at Yennadon elementary, Shawna Loutet, about the experience. Her class, and every one in the school, has this December helped decorate some 560 bags that will be used for the charity.

Loutet said the students’ contribution ties in well with the school’s ethos: “Think globally, act locally.”

“It’s a really great opportunity for the kids to give back to their community,” said the teacher.

Other people are baking, knitting or arranging donations.

“We’re not all millionaires. Some people can’t afford to give money, but they can give their time,” said Amanda. “It’s a wonderful experience, and it’s important to teach our kids to give. To see that it doesn’t take a lot to help someone, and that they’re so happy and thankful.”

The campaign has grown to some 400 volunteers this year.

“Every year, we do more than we thought we would.”

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