Students from two classes in faith-based Richmond schools have won the 2014 Class Act award, for giving out food and clothes in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside during Random Act of Kindness week in February.
The classes and their teachers from Richmond Jewish Day School and Az-Zahrra Islamic Academy, were recognized by non-profit organization Random Acts for putting aside cultural differences to unite for an annual display of goodwill.
To mark their achievement, students invited Downtown Eastside resident Fred Miller — one of those who benefited from their good will — to join them at school on Monday and share his story.
"The way he talked about us, how good it was we were working together and just to do kindness for people in this situation, just made us want to see him and talk to him," said student Abe Ravvin.
Miller, who has battled addiction his whole life, first came to the students' attention when the CBC reported on their act of kindness in February.
Miller gratefully accepted their food and clothing donations and spoke enthusiastically to the CBC about the students' efforts.
"I can recognize it for what it is. If Muslim and Jewish kids can live together, why can't the rest of the world live together?" he said back in February.
It took some time to track him down, but on Monday, at Richmond Jewish Day School, Miller shared his own story with a group of students from both schools.
"I don't have a family, I've got seven dollars in my pocket to last me the whole month. The loneliness is the worst," he said.
Miller also answered questions from students about how addiction had affected him.
"I learned from a very young age how to be an addict from drinking...it's been a life of hell, but it's been a life of goodness," said Miller.
Learning what's important
Student Azadeh Kashani said Miller's words had a significant impact on her.
"It was fascinating that not every person on Earth can have the same thing as everyone else," she said.
"He taught us it's not important. You can just be yourself, just have faith in humanity."
The annual Downtown Eastside donations stall was started by Richmond Jewish Day School, and commemorates the life of a former student in the Jewish community who was known for her kindness and generosity to others.
Last October, teachers from the two schools, Shoshanna Burton and Jessie Claudio, struck up a conversation and introduced the idea of bringing their students together.
The schools say they are planning to work together on future projects, building on what they have in common.
In the meantime, students have decided to donate their $3,000 prize money to Covenant House, a charity for homeless youth in Vancouver run by the Catholic Church.
For Miller, who received many hugs from students during his day visit to the school, the whole experience has been overwhelming.
"Just the warmth of their shiny, young faces, restores faith in me," he said.
"It's been so long since anyone cared enough to give me a hug."