Lastnight there was a charity gala, unlike most other charity galas.  It was called #5StarShelter, and was a gala dinner for women living in transitional housing in Vancouver’s downtown east side.

A traditional charity gala involves a beautiful dinner with a 5 star menu, attended by privileged people who pay a certain amount of money and enjoy the fine setting and food.  Donations and silent auctions are usually involved, and all the proceeds go to people in need.  While this is a successful fundraising formula, and I have attended many such events, they usually cost a lot of money to put together, and let’s be honest, attendees are not usually “wowed” by food or service as they’re accustomed to fine dining anyway.

We take so much for granted.

I wanted to experience a different kind of charity gala, where the attendees were actually the people in need, people who may have never experienced such food or service in their entire lives.  I wanted to switch roles and instead of simply attending the charity, we would serve them.

With overwhelming support, volunteers, and donations from my friends, colleagues and strangers, we made this event happen.  #5StarShelter took place on June 11th, 2014, benefitting the women living in one of Atira Women’s Resource Society‘s transitional housng projects, and was an amazing success.  The evening was filled with so much joy and gratitude, that I’m still reeling from the emotional impact of it all.


Many people have thanked me for putting this event together, and remarked on my selflessness and generosity – and I really don’t know what to say about all that except that I didn’t and couldn’t have done this on my own.  I cannot take credit, because the evening would not have happened without the help of all the wonderful people who jumped on the idea, and to Jayna Marie Damasco who inspired the whole event to begin with.  I am thankful, grateful, and feel incredibly blessed to know so many people with such big hearts.  And I also need to pass on some of the credit to my father, who raised me to be the woman I am today.

I dedicate #5Star Shelter to my father, Reverend Luis Daniel Pantoja, because it’s by his example that I have the desire to give back and to serve.  He’s taught me so many things growing up, and I’d like to share a few of them with you, because he’s a very wise man that I look up to.

Things My Father taught me:

  • LOVE.  I was raised as a Pastor’s daughter, and with four uncles who were also Pastors, so you can imagine the amount of sermons I’ve heard in my lifetime.  One of the main sermons from my father, is to love like Christ.  Love without judgement or expectation, love freely and love with your whole being.  This was tough to do a lot of the time, because sometimes it’s just really hard to love everyone.  In my late teens I was in a physically & emotionally abusive relationship, and it was really hard for me to understand why and how I could love someone who hurt me so much.  I really wanted to hate him.  Fast forward to recent years – my husband and I found out that our daughters were sexually molested by a trusted family member.  I’m still struggling with trying to love this person…but deep down I just hear my father’s teachings repeating in my head.  Love can hurt, but love can heal.  Love is hard, but love is a choice, not a feeling.  It’s not our place to judge, only to love.  Christ loved us, we hurt him, and he died for us…but he still loves us…so I will continue to try to love.
  • LIFE IS NOT FAIR, IT’S JUST.  I tell my kids this same line, pretty much on a daily basis.  It really didn’t make sense to me much as a kid, I just thought my father was trying to make me crazy.  I get it now though.  There is a difference in fairness and justice.  Fairness is when all things are equal, it’s easy to be fair.  Justice is so much more complicated, because it’s a concept of moral rightness which can be based on a number of things including ethics, religion, natural law, rationality, and legality.  Sometimes things can be fair, but unjust.  Usually life is not fair, but justice will prevail.  Call it karma, call it the universe balancing out, call it the Will of God.  Justice will win in the end, and I firmly believe that.
  • PEOPLE MATTER.  My father devoted his life to helping people.  I don’t know how many times, as a family, we were dragged to boring dinners at people’s houses because my father was helping their family in some way.  I remember that I would often complain that I didn’t want to go because I wouldn’t like the food they serve or they didn’t have fun toys there, and my dad always gave me the same response.  “It’s not about the food or the activities, it’s about the fellowship.”  It’s the people that you’re with that matter, and all people deserve to be treated with kindness, dignity and respect.  So I keep this in mind when I find myself getting caught up in routine, tradition, duty, or material things – it’s the people that really matter.
  • SHARE.  This is a big one.  We never had much growing up, always just managing to make ends meet.  I usually wore hand-me-downs from church members, we didn’t always have cable TV, and we never dared ask for things at the mall or grocery store because that would just start a whole other sermon.  None of this ever stopped my father from sharing everything we had with people who needed it.  He is the kind of guy that would literally give you the shoes off his feet if you needed them, seriously, he’s done this with shoes I’ve bought for him, before he’d even broken them in.  I’d buy him nice Father’s Day gifts and Birthday gifts, and if he didn’t simply give those away, he’d ask me to return the gifts so he could use the money to feed poor families instead.  It was endearing and incredibly frustrating at the same time.  I no longer buy him gifts, I just send money to support my parent’s mission work instead, and this is way more appreciated by him.  If I have an ounce of selflessness or sense of sacrifice in me, then it’s from my father.
  • COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS.  This is the sermon we got if we dared ask for things while grocery shopping.  I was raised to be thankful and grateful for everything, because everything was literally an answered prayer.  If our family van broke down, my parents would pray and miraculously someone would come by in the nick of time and give my parents a random donation that would just be the amount we needed.  I am not exaggerating in the least, my siblings can attest to this.  My parents literally lived by faith, and we always did just fine.  We were also taught that our being is not determined by our having or doing.  So I’m grateful for the amazing work I’m able to do, and for the fortunate life my husband and I are able to provide for our children, but I’m always mindful that I don’t let what we have or what we do define who we are.
  • ASK WHY.  The most annoying thing for any parent, is when kids won’t stop asking why, and kids ask why ALL THE TIME.  When I’m tempted to just scream “Because I said so,” I remind myself that my father always encouraged me to ask why.  He wanted me to be an analytical thinker and not to just take information at face value.  It was important to remember that everyone has a personal bias and that there are two sides to every story.  It’s great to know the who, what, where and when, but unless you know the why, none of it will really make sense.  These are the things he drilled into me when I would be writing history papers in school, and when watching the news on TV, and even when I was being grounded.  Seek the truth, and everyone has a different version of it.  Ask why, and try to understand.  The why is important.
  • DO YOUR BEST.  I know all parents say this to their kids, but my dad really tried to enforce this.  Every report card growing up, I would receive $20 for every A, $10 for every B, and $5 for every C+.  I would also be deducted $5 for every C-, $10 for every D, and $20 if I ever got an F.  By doing this he taught me that when I do my best, it is a  rewarding achievement, and if I do less than my best, I only cheat myself.  I was pretty much an A student and always looked forward to report card time.  My dad also taught me some valuable skills to help me achieve my best.  He taught me the importance of prioritizing and being organized.  Too much homework?  Make a prioritized list based on deadline and difficulty, then just start making your way down the list.  Don’t waste time worrying and freaking out about the work load because the faster you start, the faster you finish.  This lesson has been the key to my success in so many things, because I simply don’t stress out, I’ve learned to just start making lists in my head, and then getting things done.  There will always be obstacles, Murphy’s Law is a real thing, but if you just stay organized and do your best, it will all work out in the end.  Make it happen.

So thank you to everyone who made #5starshelter possible, and thank you dad, for everything you’ve taught me.  We made it happen.

Happy (early) Father’s Day.


Event Sponsors
Drew Cooks! Catering Services | A&B Party Rentals | Jonetsu | DeLovely Creative | The Flower Factory | Butter Studios Photography | Art of the Party | True Blue Event Rentals | Upright Decor | DJ Kasha Kennedy | Kunioo Photo & Cinema | Photobooth Vancouver | LeLe Chan Designs

Gift Sponsors
Smoochable | Tracey Knapton | Maizie Thorleifson | Pixie Riddle | Daniela Ciuffa-Syskakis | Cristina Samper Pearl | John & Marg Vriend | Vasia Weddings

Event Volunteers
Vashti Bautista | Camille Fortin-Bensler | Chadwick Bensler | Sarah Braim | Allan Chan | LeLe Chan | Jayna Marie Damasco | Curtis Doucette | Alicia Keats | Victoria Kovacs | Johanna McFarland | Adam Meagher | Jessica Minnie | Andrew Munro | L’nielle Pantoja| Melissa Pereira | Gordon Purchase | Maria Rivera | Jenna Smith | Tracey Knapton Thody | Derek Thody | Margot Bower Watt | Kelsey Vriend | Henry Zhang