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Jamaican good samaritan feeds Vancouver's homeless

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignments browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 23, 2012    

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JAMAICAN-born Lorna 'Lisa' Brown could easily be described as the black Mother Theresa of downtown Eastside in Vancouver, Canada, and for the hundreds of hungry, homeless persons who look forward to her home-cooked meals, that is just who she is.

A much-sought-after professional chef, Brown can sometimes be found catering a huge dinner party in the homes of celebrities, but the place she is most comfortable is cooking out of her own kitchen and driving around in her well-branded 'Kiss yo' mamma' truck to deliver this food to the needy.

"My special gift from God is just to help people," Brown told the Jamaica Observer as she handed out food to an ever-growing line of homeless persons on Main and Hastings earlier this month.

It is this love and talent for cooking that has provided the perfect platform for her to reach out to those who need help the most.

Brown, who now spends between Ca$500 and $1,000 weekly to feed the homeless, said she was forced to cut back given the harsh financial times.

"I also bring them clothes and some senior citizens knit hats and so on for them, " she said, adding that she also helps to get some of them off the street.

Brown lived on Manchester Street in Spanish Town, Jamaica, before migrating to Montreal in Canada at a young age after her mother, who worked as a domestic helper, filed for the family.

Brown later returned to attend primary school in Jamaica but soon headed north once more, this time to the United States, where she lived for years.

The need for urgent brain surgery saw her ending up in Vancouver 15 years ago.

"After my first brain surgery, my head was still in bandages, and I saw a lady whose face was twisted after her surgery, and so I told God that if he help me to have back my perfect face, I will serve him by working with the youth of Vancouver," she recalled.

After recovering from the surgery, Brown set about keeping that promise, starting with some of her children's friends.

"When I found one from a background that was not good I started to intervene and get to know the family, and I would teach the kids how to cook and they would cook for their parents and the relationship between them would improve," she recalled.

Wanting to reach even more people through her cooking, Brown decided to open a restaurant and began looking for a name which would help the establishment stand out.

"In California, when the food is good, people would say "This food is so good it make you wanna kiss yo mama', and so I decided that is what I am going to call the restaurant," she said.

There weren't many black-owned businesses in Vancouver, so Brown devised a strategy to stir up a following for her food.

"I started offering samples at offices around and I would say, try this food and see of it is not so good it will make you want to kiss your mama," she said, adding that there was an immediate demand.

Not even a second brain operation two years ago has stopped Brown from doing what she loves best, as she was back in the kitchen within days of this major operation to fulfil a promise made to students at a school for the deaf who wanted to have Jamaican food for an event.

"I didn't tell her (the principal) that in one week I was going to have a brain surgery, and so all I did was season up the food and I tell God if I come out alive I will cook it... I was out in four days with my head bandaged and walking with a cane and a walker.

"I had to tie a skipping rope to the cupboard doors so I wouldn't fall and when I was finished cooking my daughter helped me package it."

Brown believes that God sends her to help those who need her help the most.

It is this belief that led to her establishing the not-for-profit organisation Hip-Hop for Hunger to feed street youth.

So far-reaching is her influence that Brown also worked with the police through a rehabilitation programme for troubled youth with drug-addicted parents who were given the option of working on a farm or being sent to juvenile detention.

"I would take them out to a farm to pick weeds out of the pumpkin patch, and they would get paid $8 per hour and at the beginning of that new school term that money goes towards buying their books, shoes, and clothes for back-to-school so that other kids wouldn't be able to tease them for not having anything," she said. Brown added that she was able to work out an arrangement with the store so that the parents couldn't return the clothes and use the money to buy drugs.

Given her interaction with the homeless and drug addicts, Brown is sometimes called upon to help parents desperate to get their young girls away from pimps and off the streets.

Again, Brown uses her gift for cooking as a way to gain access into the belly of the beast — the world of prostitution.

"I would go to the pimps and offer them food so I can get to talk to the girls. Although I couldn't remove the girls from the streets, I was able to gain their trust so they can call me if there is a problem," she said.

That, she added, is how she began driving around town, expanding her mission to feed the homeless.

Richard Cunningham, who is of Jamaican parentage and who once lived on the streets said Brown provides more than just a tasty meal to the homeless as she always makes the time to encourage them and pray with them.

"She comes down here with two loaves of bread and a fish and she is able to feed a lot of people and I so look forward to her being here," Cunningham, whose parents hail from Falmouth, Trelawny, told the Sunday Observer.

A drug addict for more than 20 years, the 51-year-old said he has been off drugs and off the streets for the last four years.

"Many people like myself live in a room which has no bathroom or kitchen and we look forward to her food," he said.

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