“I remember what it was like to walk the streets and starve during the holidays. I just felt so forgotten."
Jennifer Allan is determined to continue giving back to the Downtown Eastside community she deeply loves, during a Thanksgiving celebration unlike any served before.
Earlier this fall, Jennifer was diagnosed with COVID-19. Now, over one week out of quarantine and officially recovered, the 43-year-old is on hand this weekend as the Union Gospel Mission serves 1620 turkey dinners to those who may otherwise go without Thanksgiving.
Jennifer has overcome homelessness and addiction, and she fled the survival sex trade in 2013. This holiday weekend, she hopes to remind people that they matter, when they may otherwise feel forgotten: “No one should feel that way - and meals like Thanksgiving at UGM, remind people they matter. That they are loved.”
After spending most of her early years with a foster family, Jennifer says she had limited access to her First Nations roots. While she felt loved and protected, the UGM writes that the culture clash left her, "ill-equipped for the overt racism, trauma, and abuse she would experience that eventually culminated in a drug and alcohol addiction and life in survival sex work."
Through the support of outreach workers at places like UGM, Jennifer began to see a brighter future and seek recovery. Through it all, her heart has led to her serving and advocating for others living with those same struggles. Today, she is living in UGM’s transitional housing and has overcome her recent fight with COVID-19.
“If it wasn’t for the support I received at UGM while recovering from COVID-19, I don’t know if I’d be alive,” says Jennifer. “That’s why I’m here today - because our community needs to know that this virus is no joke and getting tested (if symptomatic) could save their life. And the people down here matter. They deserve a fighting chance.”
In line with UGM’s pandemic plan, the organization has completely changed how it will host Thanksgiving meals to safeguard against COVID-19. Pandemic protocols include but are not limited to:
- A limited number of staff, wearing personal protective equipment, will serve meals ‘to go’ out the door, rather than gathering hundreds of people inside its dining hall
- Over 1600 meals to go will be served over the course of several days across multiple locations - rather than serving up to 3,000 meals on one day at the UGM's main building
- Whereas typical major meal events require more than 100 volunteers and dozens more staff, only a handful of staff and volunteers will be present at one time
- Social distancing will be followed to ensure safety
- Sanitizer will be available, as will masks to anyone who requests a mask at reception
- Sanitization procedures are stepped up to keep guests, residents and staff safe
- Health recommendations followed
“As the pandemic continues, we are adapting and adjusting how we do things to continuously add touches of hope, dignity, and compassion in all aspects,” says UGM’s Nicole Mucci.
“Even though this is the bleakest of times, this simple Thanksgiving meal will remind people that they are loved and not forgotten, that there’s hope on the horizon, and they have something to celebrate. Jennifer is proof that, with support, our community can overcome and lives will change for the better.”