News / Edmonton

Meet Ed Major: Hope Mission 24/7 Rescue Van driver and champion for Edmonton's street community

Hope Mission Rescue Van driver offers hope and humanity alongside a free meal.

Ed Major, right, watches a man rap on Whyte Avenue Thursday. Major drives the Hope Mission's 24/7 Rescue Van, offering food, clothing and conversation to Edmonton's street community.

Andrea Ross

Ed Major, right, watches a man rap on Whyte Avenue Thursday. Major drives the Hope Mission's 24/7 Rescue Van, offering food, clothing and conversation to Edmonton's street community.

A woman hurries to the Hope Mission’s 24/7 Rescue Van parked on Whyte Avenue, grateful as driver Ed Major passes a brown-bagged lunch through the window.

“How are you doing?” Major asks.

The woman’s name is Colleen, and he’s seen her on the streets before.

“I’m okay,” she says, her voice trailing off.

“Just okay?”

Tears fill her eyes.

Major unbuckles his seatbelt and gets out of the repurposed ambulance.

Colleen tells him her husband is kicking her out of the house on Friday, and she’s worried where she will go. The bagged lunch — an orange, a sandwich and a granola bar — is the first real meal she’s had in a while.

She bites into the sandwich and rubs her eyes. Major asks if she would like to pray with him.

More people quickly come to the vehicle asking for socks, underwear, jeans, hoodies, and one of the 100 bagged lunches on hand. Major sits on a bench with them as they eat.

One man, who goes by “B-Boy,” raps for his lunch.

Five minutes later, Major drives further west down Whyte Avenue. But he doesn’t get very far before another knock on the window from someone hungry for a sandwich, and maybe some encouragement.

The opportunity to offer kindness is what Major finds most important.

“To have somebody come and relate to them as a human being and let them know that they’re valuable is hopeful and can help begin to shift the tide in terms of decision making.” Major says.

“Every once in a while there’s a conversation that changes everything.”

Major is the Hope Mission’s 24/7 Rescue Van driver, one of many roles he’s had with the organization over the past 22 years. He first started as a chaplain.

The Mission started as a way to relieve city police and other emergency services from numerous calls for assistance with street people.

The summer months are the busiest for the rescue team, which works alongside EMS to provide medical care and support for the street community. Major estimates the organization’s Rescue Van saves the city the cost of two paramedics every year.

A towering man with a soft voice, Major says his role is much more than handing out sandwiches — the personal connections he makes have resulted in many people getting off the streets.

“If all we did on the street level was give lunches and food, that would be a useful service. But that means that they’re not hurting so bad, which means they can continue with their destructive behaviour,” he says.

“There’s a line between enabling destructive behaviour and empowering people to come out of it, and that’s is a line that every agency, one way or another, has to come to terms with.”

Major does this same routine every day. He drives for nine hours at a time, travelling to 118 Avenue, Jasper Avenue, Whyte Avenue and other areas of the city where vulnerable people benefit from the vehicle’s presence.

Every now and then, his pager beeps with a call from EMS, asking him to pick someone up and bring them to the Hope Mission’s main office and shelter at 99 Street and 106 Avenue.

Like the street people he works with, some days are better than others.

“There are days it doesn’t seem very fruitful, where those special conversations aren’t happening. It goes in waves,” he says. “Everybody wants hope, but not everybody is in a place in which that’s their priority. If somebody is chasing drugs or their next hustle, they’re not in a place where they’re looking for a more meaningful conversation.

“But everybody craves a deep connection with other people.”

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