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Living to Serve

Living to Serve

How Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen is making a community impact 

 By Balraj S. Kahlon

Every Sunday, around the break of dawn, a group of volunteers prepare hot meals for lunch. This lunch is packed in food safe containers and taken to the most marginalized community in Canada: The Vancouver Downtown Eastside (DTES). By Noon, the Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen (GNFK) truck with their Love All Feed All emblem arrives at Main and Hastings with another group of volunteers ready to serve.

This weekly Sunday routine of Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen takes the concept of langar outside the Gurdwara. Guru Nanak Dev ji, founder of Sikhism, started langar (free kitchen / communal meal) to promote equality where everyone breaks bread together regardless of their race, religion, or ethnicity. At the langar everyone is welcome without judgement andsocial status is irrelevant.

This volunteer effort started when a group of individuals felt the need to take the concept of langar to a community in need. Indy Singh Panchi describes how Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen started: “GNFK came about when a close group of individuals came together in 2006 with a vision of creating a volunteer-led organization to feed those in need in the Downtown Eastside areas.  That vision encompasses taking guru ka langar cooked in the gurdwara, stored in food safe containers and hence, transported to those in need in Downtown Eastside… the logic is keep it simple; serving hot and fresh healthy meals with love and dignity.  Moving forward, in 2018, the organization is still volunteer led, thousands of hot meals are cooked and served every week, and we have several outreach progrmmes as well.  The fact is GNFK did not originate in 2006 but by Guru Nanak Ji at the age of 11 in the 15th century.  The success of GNFK is purely down to every volunteer and donor that has been part of this amazing journey and selfless service.”.

Today Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen langar serves about 600 meals every Sunday, and they serve every Sunday, rain or shine. Everyone is welcomed to this selfless service cause.  Not only does GNFK serve the Downtown Eastside, they have become a part of the community. Regular volunteers have become good acquittances with community members. Some community members like to help to show their appreciation.

Talbir Uppal who is a member of GNFK and works in the Downtown Eastside explains what the Sunday langar service means to the community: “it is visible that Downtown Eastside community members need assistance in many areas. One area GNFK assists in is providing meals to those in need. When we serve one meal to one community member it changes their mindset. They’re receiving a warm hearty meal which helps them save some money. The community appreciates what GNFK does for them, every Sunday the community knows we’ll be there at 12pm and they start lining up for langar half hour before we get to Main and Hastings.”

A DTES community member also describes the benefit of the GNFK Sunday langar service. “The meals you guys serve helps me with my work lunch. I can save a few bucks for a meal later in the week. It’s a warm and fresh meal which not a lot of people serve on the streets.”

Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen has other notable initiatives for low or no income individuals and families. Every February, around Valentine’s day, GNFK donates over a thousand roses and essential goods (care / hygiene packages) to women’s shelters in the lower mainland.

In May they held a Mother’s Day Simran (meditation) which honors all mothers; in the fall they teach young children the importance of seva (selfless service) by involving families to help prepare more than a thousand cupcakes for local shelters; December brings the annual GNFK Toy Drive, in which over 3,000 new toys are collected and delivered to disadvantaged children from low income families.

The success of Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen would not be possible without support from the community.  The Sunday langar service is funded through sponsorships where anyone can sponsor to cover the cost, at approximately $300 (most supplies are donated by the community). Most heartwarming is how GNFK brings together people from different generations to work for a common cause.

The GNFK team is always looking to serve where there is a need. They recently started a yearlong initiative to collect clothing, blankets, and other necessities and distribute them to low or no income individuals and families. They also have plans for a new initiative to provide support to senior centres. GNFK has even made efforts to help vulnerable international students from India.

Beyond their community work GNFK volunteers like to have fun and build a sense of family.  GNFK regularly has a team at the Vancouver Sun Run and organize hiking trips throughout the summer. They have also participated in Canada Day celebrations and International Langar Week at UBC.

 To join Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen volunteers, you can email gurunanaksfreekitchen@gmail.com or call 604-442-7382. Their Sunday langar service operates on a drop-in volunteer basis and people can keep up to date about their events on Facebook.  

Balraj  S Kahlon is a Volunteer with Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen

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