NORTH DELTA â€” It’s not what most high school students would request as a birthday present, but Grade 11 student Parwaz Brar’s wish came true as he handed out over $900 worth of food vouchers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
"It’s been a couple years now that I’ve really wanted to go downtown and feed the homeless on my birthday, and with Paws for Hope happening, we planned it out like this," Brar said, who turned 17 last week.
The North Delta Secondary school student, who founded the school’s philanthropic group Paws For Hope along with cofounders Nav Sandhar and Jaskarn Randhawa, asked family and friends to donate to his group’s efforts to feed the homeless in lieu of birthday gifts.
"’Friends,’ I told them, ‘Don’t buy me anything, please donate to this.’ I get money from my parents and I put the money towards this, so I didn’t get any birthday presents but I’m proud of what I did," Brar told the Now, sitting in the office of his vice-principal Favian Yee, who also helped with the event.
Brar, Yee and about 20 others, students and teachers included, spent more than an hour on Sunday morning handing out 300 vouchers to Save-On-Meats, a deli and diner located in the DTES. The meal vouchers were good for a sandwich and coconut water at the East Hastings eatery.
What did Brar get out the deal? A new perspective.
"Being able to go was a great experience," he said. "You learn a lot of new things, see the different perspectives of everyone. Some reacted very gratefully and others are not too happy about what you’re doing, and some actually gave us a lot of advice."
One man hugged the students after receiving a food voucher, saying, "Thank you for this, you just made my day. You guys are so kind and so helpful."
Brar said his eye-opening moment came when he was introduced to the DTES while going for walks with his family. He felt compelled to do something about it.
"You’ll always see homeless people (downtown), and then you can buy them a coffee or give them a couple of coins that you have as change but you’re not really doing much. From that I was just inspired to do something like this. I was telling my parents, ‘Can we get pizza boxes or something like that? I want to feed the homeless.’ They’ve been very supportive," he said.
So, too, have the other adults in Brar’s and his peers’ lives. Vice-principal Yee and four other NDSS staffers took time early Sunday to chaperone the kids as they walked around East Hastings, Pender, Jackson and Cordova Streets to show support. Yee, however, says the initiative was Brar’s own.
"Paws For Hope is something that Parwaz came up with on his own, it’s something that he works at," he said.
"This was primarily organized on his part and by his friends, we were just on the sidelines for the support…. Like I said, we didn’t do much," Yee said.
But now that his 17th birthday has passed, Brar isn’t wiping his hands of his good deed. He already has the wheels in motion for his next philanthropic act – gathering a few living necessities for the less fortunate.
"The next time, we’re thinking of doing living necessities such as sleeping bags, socks and clothing, or even female hygiene products," the student said, noting he would also add items like toothbrushes and toothpaste.
He hopes to be able to carry it out before the school year’s end.