A New Westminster man is seeking to help those in need - time and time again.
Several years ago Henning Nielsen blurted out an idea that would have a lasting effect on his life and those of many others.
"I said, 'I am going to do something for charity. I am going to start feeding the homeless,'" he said. "It was something I blurted out. I was feeling sorry for myself."
Nielsen, who was semi-retired at the time, said his worst day is probably the best day for some of the folks living in Vancouver's downtown eastside. When a friend quickly offered to donate $500 to get the project started, there was no turning back.
"That was how the first event came about. We fed about 500 people," he said. "That was about seven years ago."
Nielsen is the catalyst behind One More Time, which holds "feedings" at various times of the year for people living in what's considered Canada's poorest neighbourhood. Nielsen and five volunteers served more than 1,110 sandwiches at its first event, held in January 2005.
Since then, One More Time volunteers have served food at 23 additional events.
Born in Denmark, Nielsen came to Canada with his family at the age of 14. His parents operated a sausage making deli in Richmond for 35 years, which he took over and ran for 25 years. He later managed Hollandia Deli and worked at Thrifty Foods in Tsawwassen.
"We feed food that you would feed if your friends came to your house," he said about One More Time. "It's not about us. We are honouring these people.... We are equals."
Nielsen said it was apparent from the outset that people in the downtown eastside had an appetite for a good meal.
"We went to Openheimer Park and set up some barbecues. We had maybe 10 volunteers. Sure enough 500 showed up. Within one hour we were done," he said. "We noticed there was like 2,000 people. We thought, 'whoa, there is something going on down here.' It just grew from there."
Led by Nielsen, the volunteers at One More Time come up with an idea for an event, determine a location, calculate the amount of barbecues, tables and other items needed, determine the number of volunteers needed and allocate jobs. Sixty-five to 70 volunteers generally attend each event.
"We have probably fed 27,000 people, coming up at the next feeding," he said. "We are at 25,000 now. That is being moderate. We go by how many water bottles we hand out with each meal. Some people don't take a water."
Turkey, chicken, steak, smokies with all sorts of side dishes are among the meals served at feedings. Some people have suggested that Nielsen could feed more people if he served a lower quality of food, but he's committed to a high standard of fare.
"It's word of mouth," Nielsen said. "When we start setting up ... word gets out."
Nielsen, who describes himself as the "original Fred Flintstone" as he only recently got a cell phone, has been helped by more tech-savvy volunteers who deal with websites and promotions.
Aside from giving people a good meal, Nielsen strives to help in other ways. He's proud of the fact that he's helped reconnect some of the young women living in the downtown eastside with their families - by letting them call family members.
"We know of about a dozen young ladies that we have gotten off the street.
Simply by providing them with a phone to let family members know they're OK," he said. "We've had calls to England, France, all over North America. It's to let them know you're OK. A lot of parents didn't even know where their kids were. A lot of them are from back east."
Having gotten to know some of the locals through the meals served and by visits to the downtown eastside to drop off clothing, Nielsen has gotten to know the lay of the land.
"They have them silenced pretty good between drugs and violence," he said about some men's treatment of women. "The ladies down there, they are the weaker sex - I don't know if that's the right term. There, there really is a pecking order."
That pecking order was detected early on, when Neilsen would bring clothes to the feedings.
"We started adding clothing to it. We started handing out clothes. We would put them in a pile. We noticed there is a pecking order down there, which means the bullies take all the good stuff," he said. "The people who we really brought it for didn't really get it. They got the leftovers."
Nielsen now takes the items to missions and hands out the clothing items directly to the people most in need. A business contact who manufactures clothing offered to donate him seconds and overruns of clothes, which he sells at flea markets to raise funds for future One More Time food-related events.
"We clothe them, we feed them, and we try to befriend them, build a trust. They don't see an agenda when they come down," said Nielsen, adding there is no religious element to the feedings. "I believe in God, don't get me wrong. I just want to make it you and me, have a meal type of thing.
For a change of pace from the hot food normally served up at feedings, One More Time volunteers held an Ice Cream A Ganza in September 2011, serving ice cream cones to hundreds of people in Pigeon Park.
"Boy that's messy in the summer!" Nielsen laughed.
Nielsen said people are very appreciative of the meals offered by One More Time volunteers. In all 24 meal events, he's only had to send one person away - a man who was being loud and obnoxious to some of the women in the lineup.
Lance Lim, who's handling media relations for One More Time, credits the lack of problems to Nielsen.
"It's a tribute to the atmosphere he created there," said Lim, a New Westminster resident. "That can be a rough area. The atmosphere that is presented and the volunteers give is one of non-judgment. After a while people start to see 'this is alright, I can be myself.'"
Lim noted that Nielsen kept the operation going, even when he was personally recuperating from heart surgery.
"He wasn't sure whether he could do it one more time. Yet he was still putting out money to do it," he said. "It really is something more for him. It's not about creating an organization, it's about creating a legacy."
Last Christmas, One More Time helped 16 families in the downtown east side to have merrier holiday by providing them with gifts and food. One More Time volunteers decided to scale back this year's support and to help seven families - so it could but on a big feeding in January, when people are thinking of those in need as much as they do at Christmas.
"In January it's like everybody is paying bills, nobody is helping out. It's cold," Lim said. "This is something he really saw."
In 2013, Nielsen will follow through on efforts to register One More Time as a nonprofit charity. He'll also continue selling items at flea markets to raise funds for One More Time initiatives and making his weekly visits to missions in the downtown eastside to deliver clothing and food.
Nielsen, who lived in Richmond for 30 years prior to moving to New Westminster three years ago, would like to help out locally if it can in a way that doesn't detract from the good work being done by other local organizations.
"We want to know what the needs are," he said. "We serve people. If we can help people here, we will,"
For more information, visit www.onemoretime-help.org.
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