A mob of people, roughly two hundred, milled around on the sidewalk around the Salvation Army soup truck last night. Every Tuedsay night, the truck pulls up in front of the Main Street court house, near the police station on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
People are entering the final stretch of a five week welfare month. The welfare cheques don't come out for another week, August 29th.
The Salvation Army truck --which is like a french fry truck with a small side window --came prepared. There was no shortage of food. People lined up for a bowl of vegetable beef soup with bread.; many lined up for a second bowl. They stood around talking and eating the soup as well as sandwiches which are given out at a table near the truck; usually the sandwiches are peanut butter and stawberry jam. A woman in her eighties showed up, as she regularly does, to hand out fresh baked raison bread and scones, slathered with butter, that she makes herself.
Being a pillar of the poverty industry, the Salvation Army would be aware of what a five week month is. Four times a year, the welfare month is five weeks long instead of four. It doesn't take a math whiz to figure out that that saves the government one welfare cheque per recipient annually. The Salvation Army gets government funding to help the poor; it doesn't operate strictly on charitable dollars as many people think.
Brian B. is well aware that the Salvation Army doesn't rely strictly on donations like those people toss into kettles at Christmas. He says that when he was homeless, he went to the Salvation Army and they told him to register with welfare so that they could bill the government for his bed.
Government funding to the Sally Ann raises questions about the separation of church and state. When you are given a bowl of soup at the truck, a polite man says "God Bless" with each bowl he hands out. When the truck first arrives, he says a prayer to the entire crowd. Occasionally, people eating soup are approached by young Christian women proselytizing.
But there is no doubt that the Salvation Army soup truck is a hit. People know it can be counted on to show up in front of the court house every Sunday and Tuesday night. And they show up too.
"Look at this," Serg, a Downtown Eastside resident, said as we walked down Main Street past the crowd by the soup truck last night. "This is the real essential service. Not Carnegie." Sarg was referring to the fact that the Carnegie cafeteria has been designated an essential service during the current strike by CUPE members who work for the City. "You have to pay for food at Carnegie. These people are here because it's free."
See other CUPE strike-related stories on this blog such as: Striking Librarians Should Look Up Fair.