Have you ever been panhandled by someone in downtown Memphis? I certainly have and always feel guilty if I didn’t give them something even though I knew the experts say we shouldn’t. On Day 3 of my Volunteer Odyssey, I found a way to do something positive that doesn’t involve giving money! Urban Bicycle Food Ministry delivers burritos – yes burritos! – to those in need around the downtown area. In summary, (1) you get a great workout by biking downtown, (2) give back by passing out donated items and burritos to those in need, (3) AND you get free pizza and a chance to hang out with some of the kindest people in the Mid-South! How’s that for an awesome Wednesday night??!?
The idea began in the small duplex of the coordinator, Tommy Clark. He loves to bike and wanted to combine his two passions – biking and serving his community. Put the two together and for almost 2 years, we have the ever-growing and very popular Urban Bicycle Food Ministry, aka UBFM. I helped chef Brent prepare the food, helped load backpacks, picked up a bike and went for a bike ride while feeding and serving those in need.
It was a bit strange, shocking, uncomfortable, and then enjoyable. Let me explain. When you’re not used to interacting with homeless people and all of a sudden, on a Wednesday night in downtown Memphis, you decide to make a change, it can be strange at first. I was unsure how everything would play out. My group members were very friendly and seemed to have a relationship with most of those to which we gave burritos and donated items. Their interactions and pleasantries helped me to transition out of feeling strange to enjoying the experience.
Along our two-hour biking journey, we encountered not only homeless people but also those who appeared to be low income. They didn’t have the appearance of being homeless. This made me a bit uncomfortable as I thought we would only be serving homeless people. Those who seemed to come from a low-income family looked like people I’d come into contact as some point – be it through friends or family from low-income neighborhoods or HBCU’s I visit, which are usually in low-income neighborhoods. I was prepared to give out burritos and donated goods to the homeless but not to people hanging out on street corners or in front of gas stations. It never occurred to me that they, too, might not have eaten that day for whatever reason. They’re usually viewed as hustlers, trying to make $1.00 out of $0.15.
Once I was able to get past my discomfort, I was able to enjoy the beautiful night air while biking in downtown Memphis. The night was gorgeous and the weather perfect. I began to refocus on the mission, enjoy observing the relationships between people (I love to people watch), chuckle at the fact that I was burning the calories I would soon consume from the pizza, and reminisce a bit on my biking days in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. That moment could not have been more perfect. By the end, I was grateful to have experienced so much in just one night. I made some new friends, dug a bit deeper into the world of ministry and its key players, and restart one of my favorite hobbies – biking! My soul was fed with the ministry and fellowship, and then my body was fed with yummy pizza. I plan on making this part of my weekly routine on Wednesday evenings from 7:00 – 9:00. Won’t you join me?
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