Former homeless man credits UGM Christmas dinner with saving his life

Richard Lamarche credits the annual Union Gospel Mission Christmas dinner for helping him get sober and off the streets.

'Entering the UGM, I felt an immediate sense of relief and small glimmer of hope again'

Richard Lamarche says Union Gospel Mission's Christmas dinner saved his life two years ago when living on the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. He now works as part of UGM's outreach team. (CBC)

Two years ago, Richard Lamarche was homeless, lonely and struggling with addiction. He could see no future for himself and had decided to take his own life.

While contemplating suicide in a Vancouver alley, he bumped into another homeless man who asked Lamarche to join him at the Union Gospel Mission's annual Christmas dinner. 

Lamarche doubted that attending the dinner would do him any good, but in hindsight he says it likely saved his life. 

"Once entering the UGM, I felt an immediate sense of relief and a small glimmer of hope again," Lamarche told Rick Cluff, host of CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

Union Gospel Mission says it serves up more than 3,000 meals during its annual Christmas dinner. (CBC)

Things have changed

"Through their help, love and encouragement, things have changed," said Lamarche.

Lamarche entered the charity's alcohol and drug recovery program. Now reunited with his family, and approaching his second anniversary of sobriety, Lamarche is a full-time employee at the UGM, where he will help serve dinner on Dec. 9.

"Christmas can be make-or-break for our homeless guests," said UGM president Bill Mollard.

"This meal could be a turning point for many, like Richard, who will connect to our life-changing supports, like addiction recovery or housing. We want them to reclaim Christmas too," Mollard said.

A volunteer helps serve beverages at the Union Gospel Mission's Christmas dinner. The annual event takes place Dec. 9 in the Downtown Eastside and New Westminster. (CBC)

More than a meal

Hundreds of volunteers will be serving up 1,000 kilograms of turkey and 360 kilograms of mashed potatoes this year between the UGM's two locations in the Downtown Eastside and New Westminster.

"We will serve well over 3,000 people," said Mollard. "We put on a great Christmas meal at UGM."

For Lamarche, the dinner provided far more than just food.

"Feeling loved and valued was uplifting and reinstated my desire to try and live again."

With files from The Early Edition.