December 1, 2015, is Giving Tuesday, a great opportunity to give back to the community during the holiday season. To celebrate, Wondercide will be donating 10% of profits to Mobile Loaves & Fishes, an Austin, TX non-profit that offers food, clothing, and dignity to our brothers & sisters in need.
We spoke with Communications Coordinator Perri Verdino-Gates about what Mobile Loaves & Fishes is all about. So tomorrow, when you shop for your favorite natural products, you’ll know exactly where your donations are going!
Wondercide: How was Mobile Loaves & Fishes originally started?
Perri: Mobile Loaves & Fishes was originally started by 5 friends at St. John Neumann Catholic Church who were from various walks of life. They had repeatedly seen the same folks on the side of the road needing assistance, so they decided that something they could do was to start helping them with food. So, they literally started making packed lunches, and they would go out in their green minivan and take those sack lunches to the folks out on the street.
Wondercide: How has Mobile Loaves & Fishes expanded since the early days?
Perri: As those friends started serving people in that way – they went out on the streets and nobody had to come to them – they would get to know them better. The friends realized it was important to find out what these folks really needed, not just what they thought they might need. They struck up conversations and built relationships, and they found out that most of these people were on the streets because they had some kind of catastrophic break with their family. When they discovered that, it brought up the idea that community was what was really lacking for these folks, and Mobile Loaves & Fishes was born.
From there, Mobile Loaves & Fishes has grown into several trucks that go out every day of the year to serve food to the homeless – even on holidays – and we have several thousand volunteers who man these trucks. It’s grown into a few different cities in Texas including San Antonio.
As Mobile Loaves & Fishes grew and we built more and more relationships, the founder, Alan Graham, found that there were people who really needed housing, and he began to think about how to make that happen. The Community First program was born out of that need. It started as helping people get into RVs in RV parks throughout the city. They would pay rent, and Mobile Loaves & Fishes volunteers would go check on them and sometimes help them secure work. They were able to use our Community Works program to find dignified ways to make an income, whether that’s rediscovering a talent they already had like an artist, craftsman, or entrepreneur.
Wondercide: What are the main programs of Mobile Loaves & Fishes?
Perri: The original program was the food delivery trucks, and now there’s also Community First, a village of sustainable housing for the chronically homeless. Part of Community First is Community Works, which offers various dignified income-earning opportunities that we’ve been able to house at the Community First property. There’s a blacksmith, an art house, a wood shop, and we’ll continue to add more. We’ll be adding a bed & breakfast soon, so some of our residents can work in hospitality, too. Every time we turn around, fortunately, there’s a new opportunity to help somebody earn an income or find purpose in their life.
Then, of course, there’s Genesis Gardens, which is the farming arm of Community First. It has 3 acres of farmland, about 250 trees, beehives, plus goats, and chickens. Some of the Community First residents are master gardeners who lead volunteers in tending the gardens or run the beekeeping program. We even have a Tree Forest Manager who takes care of literally every tree out there and owns income from it. If people are unable to work who live at Community First, we help them figure out if they qualify for any social security income or things like that they may not have been aware of or that they may have been unable to receive previously without a legal address.
It’s not just about putting a roof over someone’s head but about helping them build a home and a community.
Wondercide: What is the mission & vision of Mobile Loaves & Fishes?
Perri: Our mission is to provide food, clothing, and dignity to our brothers and sisters in need, and our vision is to empower communities into a lifestyle of service with the homeless. That’s where programs like Genesis Gardens and Community Works come into play. So, for instance, if you wanted to help in Genesis Gardens, you might be led out by a resident – say the Tree Forest Manager – who might tell you how to mulch the beds and would know exactly how everything needed to be done. So he would provide leadership and direction for the volunteers. One of the first times I went out there, I had no idea who was a resident and who was a volunteer. The resident who was leading us was so knowledgeable, I figured he was somebody from a nursery who’d come in to help. So that’s part of the beauty of it – to break down the barriers and the preconceived notions many people have about the homeless like why they’re there and who they are, and break it down to the idea of “all of God’s children.”
Wondercide: How can people in Austin help Mobile Loaves & Fishes?
Perri: The first thing to do is check our website at mlf.org and click the Get Involved tab, where you can find a schedule of volunteering opportunities. You can get involved in a hands-on way or make a contribution. Certainly, making this all happen requires funding, so every donation helps. Whether it’s to put food on the trucks or help pay the income someone has earned through Community Works, there are lots of ways to help us improve. There are so many options, you can find something that fits your purpose and your mission of how you want to help out.
You can volunteer as often or infrequently as you like doing anything from handing out food to tending to the plants in Genesis Garden, and more. If you would like to volunteer as a group (like with your coworkers, for instance), just contact the Mobile Loaves & Fishes volunteer coordinator Miranda through the website.
Wondercide: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Perri: I think it’s just an opportunity to connect human to human and heart to heart. Long ago, even though we felt like a food ministry because we were bringing food out into the streets, food is really just a way to make a connection and start building a relationship. And I think that’s what Mobile Loaves & Fishes is really about – connecting folks. It’s about getting people who can help to those that need help and building a relationship between the two.