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Anna's story

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“Cooking, we know, has a way of cutting through things - things which have nothing to do with the kitchen. This is why it matters.”

~ Nigella Lawson, British food writer and author

Anna (left) consults with HAVE executive director Amber Anderson in the kitchen.Cooking matters to Anna, an assistant instructor at the HAVE Café.

It was through cooking she became part of the HAVE community, which gave her a reason to get up every day and come to work. It is also through cooking Anna now has ambitions – to become a red seal cook, the highest standard in the profession.

These are all things Anna didn’t have the day she first walked through the doors of HAVE, located at 374 Powell Street. That’s because Anna, not her real name, entered the culinary training facility and café with personal baggage – a history of alcoholism, drug use and homelessness.

She collected that baggage while living and working in Toronto, where she in social services. Glenda was burnt out from the job and started calling in sick. Her best guess is she called in sick 90 times in one year.

“I would say I enjoyed my job but I was so burnt out,” says Anna, who was abusing alcohol and other drugs during then. “I felt kind of fake in a way because you’re trying to give advice to clients and you’re pretty much in the same boat.”

So she moved to Vancouver with her partner, a heavy drinker. The move was more about life change than career prospects. The couple found an apartment but no steady work, then quickly drained what savings they had, were evicted and became homeless.

Living on the streets for Anna consisted of binning, partying and a sense of freedom that comes from no responsibilities. Her attitude changed, however, as the hardships of living on the streets took a toll.

Anna, fortunately, got housing in a womens-only facility operated by Atira Housing. While living there she learned about the HAVE Culinary Training Society, which has a partnership with the Lookout Society. The HAVE (Hope, Action, Values, Ethics) mission is to empower homeless and disadvantaged adults with life skills, job training and employment in the food service industry.

Anna fell in love with it almost instantly.

“It’s such a great atmosphere and everyone is meant to feel so valued and has an important role here, even the students,” says Anna. “It makes you feel so much better about yourself.”

After graduating from the program she also found work there. Most recently, Amber Anderson, executive director of the HAVE society, encouraged her to enrol in the red seal training at Vancouver Community College. Going back to school and finding her own place to live are new chapters in Anna’s life.

She’s already proven she won’t burn out in her new profession.

“It’s been three years since I’ve been here and I’ve probably taken off a day and a half for sick days. My last job it was more like three months of sick days” says Anna. “That’s just from what I get from what I get out of being here and the responsibility I have.”

• The HAVE society runs its training school out the North Shore Shelter kitchen as part of a social enterprise partnership with the Lookout Society.