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Shelves bare at AIDS Vancouver ‘grocery store’

One-day holiday event serves 800 clients and families

The shelves lining the tiny “grocery store” located on the main floor of the AIDS Vancouver office on Seymour Street at Helmcken are completely bare. But program coordinator Heidi Morgan isn’t panicking — yet.

“We’re actually closed because it’s income assistance cheque week,” explained Morgan. “It’s next week we need to fill these shelves.”

The store allows registered clients of AIDS Vancouver to drop by on scheduled days to “shop” for groceries.

Grocery basket in hand, clients can peruse the shelves and choose a limited number of items to take home at no cost. Those who bring their own bag are also rewarded with a treat, such as a granola or energy bar.

“By not just handing them a bag of food from a counter it allows clients some choice and some dignity,” said Morgan, who now has her sights set on a much larger event.

Each year AIDS Vancouver hosts a one-day, holiday grocery event for more than 800 clients and their families. In some cases, the food they receive on that day will be the closest these individuals and their families and children will have to a holiday dinner.

Morgan is spreading the word that donations are much needed.

At the top of her wish list is peanut butter, real cheese, canned ham, granola bars, candy, new or gently used toys and blankets, fresh milk and eggs, and juice. Other much-needed items include tinned protein, such as tuna or salmon, produce, pasta, canned sauces and chili, and good quality bread.

Morgan became aware of the services offered by AIDS Vancouver after her father was diagnosed with HIV in 1996. Her father passed away in 2007, but Morgan said during that time staff and volunteers from AIDS Vancouver provided constant support.

“At one time my mom and dad and my brother and I were living in a single room with two beds, so I know how important a program like this can be,” said Morgan.

Downtown resident Joe (JP) Smith agrees.

Smith said when he first discovered he had tested positive for hepatitis C, his world turned upside down. “But then two years ago I found out I had also tested positive for HIV,” Smith said during an interview at the AIDS Vancouver office Wednesday.

“At first I was in complete denial but then I realized the doctor who told me was an expert in HIV and AIDS and had to be right. That’s when I got angry.”

Smith said after that initial denial the first thing he did was turn to AIDS Vancouver for support.

“I met a lot of people here but then there was a time when I had a reaction to my Hep C medication and I lost three days,” said Smith. “That’s when someone grabbed me and said, ‘Something’s wrong.’ They took care of me for three days and that’s when I realized that they were my friends and that they cared.”

Smith, today a volunteer for the organization, is also a client of the grocery program.

“It’s great the way they let people shop with a basket,” said Smith. “That means a lot.”

To donate to Holiday Grocery 2013 call Morgan at 604-696-4678 or email at There are also tickets left for AIDS Vancouver’s Red Ribbon Reception at the Museum of Vancouver Nov. 30, the night before World AIDS Day. The event includes a reception, silent auction and the Red Ribbon Awards.