Since 1980, the Carnegie Community Centre has been a beacon of hope in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighbourhood. The Centre provides a variety of programs for the area’s residents, all available at no cost to members with a $1.00 annual membership. They offer a wide variety of programming and activities, all with the goal of creating a safe, welcoming space for community members to volunteer, connect, relax, learn and enjoy. In addition, the Carnegie Community Centre provides low-cost, nutritious meals 365 days a year through its cafeteria, helping to ensure that area residents have regular access to food.

We recently spoke with Karla Kloepper (Assistant Director) and Steve McKinley (Food Services Coordinator) of the Centre in order to find out more about the programs they offer, the people they help, and the importance of the local community and volunteers. As the holidays roll around, we often look to give back to our community in some way — and the Centre is an excellent place to do it. Whether in December or any other month of the year, the Centre is always in need of volunteers!


An Inside Look at How the Carnegie Community Centre is Making an Impact in the Downtown Eastside

1. How did you first get involved with the Carnegie Community Centre (CCC)?

I first became aware of Carnegie Community Centre when I was working as a baker in the area. The owner and another worker there were talking about the CCC and mentioned it was part of the City of Vancouver. I had no idea how it was structured until some time after that. I got in contact with the person who was, at that time, the chef at the Centre and we hit it off. I was encouraged to apply for a job there.

2. Can you give us a high-level overview of the CCC and the different programs it offers?

Located at 401 Main Street, the Carnegie Centre was built in 1902 as the first library in the City of Vancouver. After serving as the city library and city museum, it underwent major renovations. The Carnegie Community Centre opened its doors in 1980.

The CCC’s mission is to nurture mind, body and spirit in a safe and welcoming environment. Through the leadership and participation of our volunteers, we provide social, educational, cultural and recreational activities for low-income individuals of the Downtown Eastside. Additionally, the Carnegie Community Centre is home to a bustling cafeteria that serves 280,000 meals per year, as well as a branch of the Vancouver Public Library and the Capilano University Learning Centre!

3. What is your favourite part of being involved with the Centre?

Being involved with the CCC means being really plugged into what’s happening in the area, and being able to make a meaningful difference in peoples’ lives on a daily basis. For me, being able to provide good, tasty food at a low cost is so gratifying. It fills a basic need. In addition, the people at the Carnegie Community Centre make it a welcoming and dynamic place to work. The staff and patrons are very diverse, yet unified in our focus on creating a great community space for everyone to enjoy.

4. Why do you think it’s important for members of the community to support this cause?

I think it’s important because the Centre’s kitchen is an essential food service in the Downtown Eastside. Providing healthy, delicious and affordable meals is critical to supporting food security in this area. Members of the community are really the backbone of the labour force when it comes to running the programs. We consider input from them when making our menu choices, and we certainly include them as part of the culture. Additionally, the kitchen relies on volunteers to produce meals. The meals are prepared using seasonal, local ingredients, and made from scratch wherever possible. Volunteers earn meal tickets for their service, which can be used in the cafeteria.

5. What are your tips for people who want to get involved with a charity (either working for one or volunteering)?

We find both our volunteers and our patrons get the best experience when relationships are built and sustained through ongoing volunteering – for example, by volunteering once a week over months or even years. This helps build skills, relationships and empathy. It also helps sustain our operations on an ongoing basis. I would also suggest asking your chosen charity about which areas most need attention. Ways you can help may include:

  •      Volunteering your time on a project or as part of a team
  •      Helping to fundraise or making a donation
  •      Joining a board of directors to share your professional expertise
  •      Spreading the word about the work an organization does through social media or amongst your
    friends and family

Carnegie Community Centre volunteers

6. Since you started working at the Centre, has your view of giving back to the Downtown Eastside changed?

Yes. Now more than ever, I strive to make things in the DTES better on a day-to-day basis. I’ve found these successes really provide us with the energy to keep going forward. I also realize now that there are so many ways people can give back – by giving their time, being an ally, or supporting local organizations financially. Most organizations find it helpful if volunteers or donors ask about an organization’s needs so that the organization can advise on a giving-back plan. This helps ensure the donations and volunteers best meet the needs of community members and the organizations that serve them.

7. What are the biggest misconceptions about the CCC?

I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that we don’t have any innovative programs happening here. Speaking about our food program, I think people are always surprised to see the quality of the food coming out of our kitchen. I’m sure people would also be very impressed with our literacy and writing programs, and the arts, sports, and cultural programs that we offer.

8. What are the biggest misconceptions about the people who use the CCC’s services?

I think people might assume that we serve only homeless people, when in fact this isn’t the whole story. Although the people living on the street may be more visible as a demographic than the local residents living in single-room hotels, it is these residents who form a large portion of the Carnegie community.

9. What are some things you would like people to know about the Centre and its patrons?

The Carnegie Centre has approximately 5,000 members, with 2,000 visits per day. People come to use the resources and services, take part in programming, volunteer, or enjoy a delicious meal! The volunteer program is critical to providing the many wonderful activities and services – including our food services – at the Centre.

10. What has been the most uplifting or inspirational story you’ve witnessed at the Centre?

It’s impossible to pick just one! I would say anything involving streaming people into jobs within the City of Vancouver. This is always a fairly long process because it requires equipping people with market skills. This is not usually an easy task, especially if they have been unemployed for years, or living with addiction or mental illness. My favourite part is that it involves all of the members of the Centre’s kitchen team working together to contribute to the new employee’s success. Everyone brings something essential to the task and it fosters patience and empathy across the board.

11. If you could drive one thought or idea into the minds of all Vancouverites about what they can do to give back to the community, what would it be?

Contact a local community organization to find out what key items or services are in need, and bring your unique resources to the table. For example, do you have a strong social presence that can drive awareness? Does the organization have a technical or design problem that you, as a general contractor, designer, engineer or artist, can help solve? You see what I mean. I’m speaking broadly and not specifically about the CCC, but the idea is that people need to think outside the box. The burden on charities is so huge now and there is so much need everywhere. And once you have chosen a charity to give to, be consistent. Regular contributions are so valuable.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Carnegie Community Centre and the different ways you can volunteer, check out their webpage at the City of Vancouver.

Next month, we will be looking at 2017 in review, and then turning an eye to the food industry trends we predict will be influential in 2018. In the meantime, check out some of our other recent blog posts. Happy holidays!

Author Trish Hudson

Trish is the owner and principal at Holistic Hospitality Solutions. She aims to help assess her clients operations from top to bottom in order to gain efficiencies, save money, and increase their bottom line.

More posts by Trish Hudson

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