Just don’t Call Me Banana Boy

pre-edit for publication in Right to Food Zine

It’s 5:30 a.m. on the last Wednesday of the month, and my alarm clock is screaming. In a flash, I’m up and making coffee. And I’m thinking that it’s a horrible thing, having to get up this early in the morning. After all, I’m an artist, man. My paths normally lead to later awakenings. But this is the morning I’m dispatched on behalf of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House on what we call the Banana Beat, and I have to get to the NH by 7:30.

By 6:30, I’m out the door and on my way. I live close to Lost Lagoon, near StanleyPark. It’s a fifty minute walk to the Neighbourhood House. So, I’ve got to move.

As I walk, I’m struck by contrasts. Up the hill from the park and along the Robson Street strip mall, with its unrestrained retail ballyhoo. Then through the downtown financial district, where traders have been at work for hours driving the economy into the toilet. And finally into the Downtown Eastside where the free-enterprise binners’ mall, out front of United We Can, is in full operation and generating actual wealth.

But there’s already a line-up at Pigeon Park Savings.

It’s the hungriest morning of the month in the hungriest neighbourhood in the city. And there are line-ups everywhere. Folks are patiently waiting at local offices of the BC Ministry of Social Development for their income assistance and disability cheques. Later, they’ll wait in line to cash them. I know their stomachs are growling as they queue. It’s been a month since their last cheque. That’s sort of where the Banana Beat Team comes in.

Yesterday, Cate, my Banana Beat co-worker, and I spent the afternoon with a dedicated group of volunteers. We separated several hundred bananas and re-boxed them. (Placing them back in their boxes, wrapped in plastic, helps them to ripen to perfection over night.) This morning, we’re taking those bananas out of the boxes again and putting them into our signature yellow shopping carts.

Shortly after 8:00 a.m., we’re out on two different routes, one down Hastings Street and one down Powell Street, with a gaggle of staff and volunteers distributing bananas to people in the above mentioned line-ups, and to anyone else on the street who wants one. That could mean you.

Banana Beat is one of the founding programs of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House. It began in 2007. The organic, fair-trade bananas come our way via Whole Foods, twelve cases in all each month. Eight of those boxes are generously donated by Whole Foods, and the Neighbourhood House purchases the remainder. Since 2007, the DTES NH has distributed approximately 77,200 bananas, one at a time, on the mornings of cheque issue, to hungry people in the DTES neighbourhood.

No one has to line up for a Banana Beat banana. People are invited to help themselves, and take one for a friend. And with each piece of the pasty fruit comes an invitation to visit and participate in inclusive and participatory programs at the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House.

So just think of that when you see me next month at Hastings and Main, handing out bananas. But think twice before you call me Banana Boy!


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