Picture yourself walking into a room with high, vaulted ceilings, exposed red brick walls and beautiful dark wood accents. The air is filled with the rich aroma of cocoa beans mixed with the irresistible scent of fresh, organic coffee and everything is blanketed in an atmosphere of love. Are you there? Yes. Then you’ve just imagined what the atmosphere at East Van Roasters is like. Located in the ground floor of the Rainer Hotel, this is a very special place.
I found out about East Van Roasters from an article in a local magazine and the piece not only made me drool with their description of the cafe’s artisan chocolate but also explained how they hire women in the DTES with “barriers to employment” ie: drug addiction, alcohol addiction and emotional issues. Working at East Van Roasters gives women battling these challenges the helping hand they need to get back on their feet and maybe even transform their lives. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
So when I also found out that the cafe hosts volunteer nights every other Wednesday, I signed myself up. The volunteer nights are called “Winnow Wednesdays” and winnowing means taking the hard shell off of cocoa beans. All of the volunteers sit together at a long, communal table and get down to work. We’re a bunch of strangers, sitting side by side and learning how to remove the sometimes finicky shell from it’s cocoa bean but working together helps the conversation flow easily and brings a lovely camaraderie too.
During the volunteer evenings, East Van’s Director, Shelley, explains to everyone what the cafe is all about. East Van only buys fair trade, organic beans and pride themselves on the relationships they have built with their suppliers around the world. She also tells us that the only pre-requisite for a shift here is to show up clean and sober. Then she explains that sometimes it’s just not possible for someone to show up clean and sober. So they are sent away and told to come back the next day, clean and sober. And if they don’t, they are told to come back the next day and the next day…until finally they do show up clean and sober and get a shift. She says that sometimes we all need a lot of chances and East Van Roasters is the land of 1,000 chances.
The description of the many chances at East Van touched a place deep in my heart. My sister, Inga, and my niece, Crystal, both lived in the DTES (my niece got out but my sister spent the last years of her life here) and I know how much we all need a number of chances at times but residents of the DTES, in particular, need 1,000 chances and a lot of love and patience to go along with those chances.
Love, patience and a chance can be hard to find in our world so places like East Van Roasters are so special and so necessary. If we ever hope to create a functioning, compassionate society, we need many, many more places just like this.
East Van Smoothie
- 2 cups almond milk
- 2 organic bananas
- 1 T. cashew butter
- 6 East Van Roasters cocoa beans
Blend together (with love).