By: Charlene Aviles, Peak Associate
Since 2004, the Gaura Hari Karma-Free Meals Society (GHKFM) has provided what GHKFM’s vice president Patrick Francis describes as “hot meals prepared with love and [ . . . ] spiritual devotion” to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and rural communities near the Indian cities of Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, and Udhampur. Their charity work in India meets the nutritional needs of marginalized groups such as orphans and other children in impoverished households, those in jail, and those living with disabilities. Based on the spiritual concept of karma, at the heart of their charity work is the belief that a vegetarian diet is good for the body and soul.
Since 1992, the Veggie Lunch program, originally a student club, has provided $6 vegan meals to Simon Fraser University (SFU) students. The program has been an important source of funding for GHFKM’s other programs and given its popularity among the SFU community, GHKFM had prioritized maintaining the program in 2020. During an interview with The Peak, Francis reflected on the pandemic and “the domino effect” it’s caused for GHKFM. SFU suspended the Veggie Lunch program early in 2020 with the government’s public health restrictions on public gatherings following shortly after. This has meant that since March 2020, GHKFM’s large community events (such as those at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Center, the First United Church, The Dugout, and Oppenheimer Park) have stopped operating. The popular Oppenheimer Park event, which often attracted line ups with thousands of participants, was one of the events hardest hit by the suspension.
These events are mutually beneficial to the volunteers, charity, and participants. Students often play an active role in volunteering, and in exchange for their time, they get practical experience in their field. Former volunteers, who were often students in training, offered several services at events including hair styling and yoga classes. At these events, attendees have the opportunity to receive services usually not afforded to them.
Excluding tax breaks, GHKFM runs “independent of any government organizations.” According to Francis, interaction and connection with the public are integral to the charity thriving. This has become somewhat of a challenge in light of the public health restrictions, restrictions on accepting certain donations, and limits on who volunteers in the Hare Krishna Temple.
Since the charity is “public-oriented,” they mainly rely on the public’s donations, which they stopped receiving.
“As a charity, we can’t really afford to advertise ourselves the way some profit-driven entities can, so we really rely on public awareness,” he said.
Despite these obstacles, GHKFM remains hard at work and hopes for a brighter future in 2021. Francis acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught them to “be prepared for any kind of situation that arises.” The public can support them through donations, distribution of goods, awareness through word of mouth or social media, and volunteering. If you are interested in volunteering, contact GHKFM. Volunteers may offer their time on a per event basis. Visit their website to donate via PayPal, debit, or credit card.