WHALLEY — Michael Musgrove ran frantically around the former furniture store.
As guests wandered in through the festive front door, the executive director of Surrey Urban Mission greeted most by name.
He sat them, chatted briefly, then quickly scurried back to the door because more people had already arrived.
Last Friday, the empty storefront that used to house Aaron’s Furniture was transformed, with a little Christmas magic, into a hall to feed the area’s homeless and vulnerable.
Black table cloths adorned each table. Red cloth napkins, lit tea light candles and a Christmas centrepiece sat atop the sleek linen.
Baked goods were set upon each table but the real goods was the food – a full Christmas dinner is being served, complete with all the trimmings.
“We don’t mess around,” said Councillor Barb Steele, chuckling.
Though the event was hosted by Surrey Urban Mission, it turns out the idea came from Steele and blossomed – quickly.
“It was amazing how many people wanted to help, and be part of this,” said Steele, scanning the room. “No one said no.”
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(Surrey-Panorama MLA Marvin Hunt, Mayor Linda Hepner and Steele.)
So, the City of Surrey, Surrey Urban Mission, along with an army of volunteers and help from businesses and developers made Christmas come early for more than 200 of the area’s homeless and vulnerable. And it’s expected to become an annual event.
Politicians turned out in force to slap on an apron and pick up their serving trays, so to speak.
“My table is hungry,” remarked Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner as she stood in the food lineup.
RCMP also turned out, as did many volunteers from the community.
“These things they kind of take on a life on their own,” said Musgrove during the event. “It’s something bigger than me, or this mission, or any one person, happening here.
“To see people that maybe a week ago you were giving Narcan to, to be sitting here enjoying an amazing meal – that’s amazing,” he added.
For Musgrove, the event was about unity.
“I’m hoping this is a sign,” he said. “I’m hoping it’s the start of something, where it’s not so much of the ‘us’ and ‘them.’ From all sides of this equation. RCMP, city officials, people that are struggling with maintaining their housing, people with addictions, people that are on the streets. There are all these different folks coming together. This is about dignity and unison. The more I look around, the more I get chills. To see some of the folks, the elected officials, the CEOs of companies that are here.”
Musgrove (pictured with Brenda Locke) hopes the event provided dignity for some of the area’s homeless.
“The month of December can be difficult when you live in poverty,” he said. “You watch a world that is full of joy and full of happiness, but not for you.Your world is poverty, hunger, cold, wet and full of struggles. Your world is addiction, pain, hunger and despair.
“With caring hearts, Mission staff and volunteers provide hope and encouragement to our guests,” he added.
And hope they did provide, for some.
Ben Pederson and Rose Ivens enjoyed their Christmas dinner. Both have been homeless but are currently housed and receive their meals from the Surrey Urban Mission.
Ivens said she receives $1,000 a month from the government, and her rent alone is $800.
She works part-time to help pay the bills.
“SUMS has helped me so much. Sometimes I take home bread. I take my meals home if I don’t eat them. If I miss a week, that’s a week without me eating hardly anything. This is where I get my food. There’s no money.
“I know how hard it is,” Ivens said of being homeless. “I been there two months with no money, no roof over my head, finding a spot where I could at least get a few hours sleep.
“It’s so hard out there,” she added. “People are dying in tents.”
Another man, who declined to give his name, said this was the first time he’s sat down for a Christmas dinner in five years.
“This is awesome,” he said, grinning from ear to ear, leftovers in hand as he left.
Some residents from 135A Street were grateful, yet disappointed.
A homeless woman who identified herself only as Kelly (pictured) said she was speaking for residents of 135A Street took to the mic.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done here and the organizing you’ve gone through and the time and energy I’m sure it took, but we do want to say that we are willing to give up some of the syringes and some of the pipes for some resources that will help with beds and homes,” she told the crowd.
Meanwhile, Surrey Urban Mission has a Christmas breakfast and lunch planned for those in need. Breakfast will run from 8 to 9:30 a.m. and lunch will begin at noon. The mission is located at 10776 King George Blvd.