A Better Life: Mark Brand launches DTES food program

Mark Brand launches an initiative to nourish the DTES in body and soul. Entrepreneurs have power beyond City Hall, and they're starting to flex it.

Mark Brand at TEDxVancouver
Mark Brand at TEDxVancouver (still from YouTube video)

It's a pleasure to serve you

Mark Brand knows about serving food in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Save-On-Meats has been transformed into a booming hipster mecca while retaining its links to the community, and Sea Monstr Sushi has fascinated its patrons with those beer cups that fill from below. (You can keep the magnets, by the way.) No. 1 Noodle House is just taking off, bringing you ramen after the midnight hour.

Brand is moving beyond those Save-On sandwich tokens to launch A Better Life Foundation.

Kicking off with a fundraiser at the Vancouver Art Gallery on May 25, A Better Life Foundation will provide food to those living in SROs or assisted-living programs, as well as providing skills training for those looking to enter or re-enter the workforce.

A Better Life Foundation is launching as the downtown gentrification debate reaches a fever pitch. While Brand is not the only East Van entrepreneur to channel his efforts back towards his neighbourhood, he's been getting the lion's share of media attention for it.

Of course, newer businesses helping the existing neighbourhood is a good thing, an act that keeps the block alive. While no single person (or restaurant or store) can solve the tangle of issues plaguing the DTES, that doesn't make them (or us) powerless.

As our neighbourhoods change, we can't let invisible barriers creep in along with the dark leather and brushed steel. That way failure lies, from a development point of view.

Work with what you have

Brand's foundation combines two themes that Brand keeps revisiting: make a little go a long way, and treat people with dignity.

A Better Life Foundation

Says Brand, "We are really looking forward to putting into action the goals of the foundation. The Downtown Eastside holds a special place in my heart, as it does with many people in this city, and I personally can't wait to be part of the positive change that's coming to this area thanks to people coming together to provide food security to those who need it the most."

Food security (or the lack thereof) was a major point in Brand's TEDxVancouver 2012 talk. He describes the hope and hardship found in Vancouver's heart: "Struggle and pain, and also beauty. [...] What's the solution? If I can't solve it, I have to look the f*ck away. No. Absolutely not."

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