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Downtown cafe donates space to help most vulnerable

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The owners of a local coffee shop have donated their space to an organization in need of a place to make lunches for the vulnerable population in Oshawa's downtown.

Abhiram Sarvepalli, owner of Cafe House Oshawa, had to close up shop recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, one evening while locking up, Sarvepalli ran into John E. Walker, organizer of LIFE Community Project, and learned his team was in need of a space to make and prepare lunches and care packages for people in need.

"We were more than happy to lend out our space," says Sarvepalli. "We aren't open, so we figured we can help."

LIFE Community Project Durham Region is a community group with a mission of providing assistance to those in need, including food, clothing, and necessities.

Walker says it all began about five years ago with a man named John Van Goch, who would stand at the trunk of his car at the corner of John and Simcoe streets with a sign that read, "Free water, hugs, and a sandwich."

Every Sunday, Van Goch would hand out sandwiches to the vulnerable population in Memorial Park. After a few weeks, he invited Walker to join him and help to "spread the love and joy."

At the time, Van Goch was handing out about 20 sandwiches on Sundays. Walker says the number of volunteers slowly began to grow and the group developed into LIFE - Love Is For Everyone, which later morphed into what is now known as LIFE Rally Oshawa.

The group has increased their efforts to seven days a week due to the pandemic and are now handing out between 150 and 200 lunches every day in Memorial Park, which includes a sandwich, a snack, banana or other fruit, and water.

"Our main focus is providing a daily food source," says Walker, adding that they went to seven days after St. Vincent's Kitchen in downtown Oshawa closed due to the pandemic.

"For many, that's their only daily source of food," he says. "They were struggling on the streets looking after themselves. Everything closed - libraries, restaurants, some food banks. We watched a complete collapse of a support system."

Since March 17, LIFE Rally Oshawa has handed out more than 5,000 lunches. Walker says he expects the number of people needing assistance will continue to climb if the COVID-19 crisis continues. He says there are plans in the works to also start offering clothing and other necessities in the coming days.

LIFE is strictly run by volunteers and relies 100 percent on donations. Food donations can be dropped off at 12 Centre St. N. from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

There is a bin outside when it's not raining, for contactless drop-off. A volunteer will then retrieve the donations and they will be sorted and sanitized before heading two doors down to Oshawa House Cafe to be prepared.

At this time, Walker says only store-bought and pre-packaged foods can be accepted - homemade goods will not be accepted. Monetary donations are also accepted and can be sent to donate@life-loveisforeveryone.com

"We have an amazing team and we continue to provide more and more assistance," says Walker. "Everyone deserves to be treated with love and compassion, even in crisis we must not forget those most vulnerable in our city of Oshawa."

By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express