Day Three: Urban Bicycle Food Ministry

While everyone back home has been curious about my different Odyssey Forward experiences, Urban Bicycle Food Ministry undoubtedly sparked the most questions.

“So you’re riding your bike around downtown Memphis? Delivering burritos? To homeless people?”

Kind of.

When Volunteer Odyssey asked if I would be willing to join UBFM on their weekly bike ride, I agreed, admittedly terrified. My first week as a Memphis resident the local news was flooded with violent stories that made me wonder if I had made a mistake leaving the safety net of my hometown in the mid-west. Ironically, riding my bike at 10pm through some of the poorest neighborhoods in Memphis reinforced taking this plunge.

As soon as I walked in the kitchen door, I was put to work. We had 200 burritos to make! I took the rookie job of stirring the mixture of beans and rice for the burritos which was made less painful by the give-and-take of the regulars. When we got on the topic of high school rivalries, I realized I had a rival of my own in the room! One of the volunteer cooks who relocated to Memphis when serving in the armed forces graduated from a high school in my home town in Iowa. The world is small, go Warriors.

The Wednesday night  crew showing me a thing or two about rolling burritos.

The Wednesday night crew showing me a thing or two about rolling burritos.

After rolling the burritos, we packed up small “care packages” to distribute while on our ride. The lobby of the church slowly filled with more people loading their bags with burritos, bottled water, toiletries, etc. This is a social ministry, as volunteers greet one another with hugs upon arrival, catching up in the last week. Before we headed out on to the streets (I was on the Poplar route) we were reminded this ride is not for the homeless, this ride is for those in need.

Urban Bicycle Food Ministry founder, Tommy, getting the group pumped up and reminding the group why we ride.

Urban Bicycle Food Ministry founder, Tommy, getting the group pumped up for the ride.

One of the first groups we approached was sitting outside of a gas station. Not only does UBFM share tangible goods, they engage literally every single person they encounter. High fives, hand shakes and introductions. One gentleman told me he lays flooring and asked about my Habitat for Humanity shirt. I told him of my time working there and my (minimal) knowledge of construction. After our brief exchange, he asked if I was afraid to be out here riding around at night ‘talking to people like us’. At this point in the experience, I could sincerely answer that I was not afraid, because people like him made me have confidence in this experience. We wished safety on each other and our crew headed out.

As we rode on there were ‘regulars’ that the long term volunteers recognized and could catch up with. Moving through the neighborhoods some individuals would literally holler out “burritos! Hey, burritos!”. In case you are reading this and are 1) not currently living in Memphis or 2) not someone I have complained to at home, Memphis is HOT. Like, really hot. Relentlessly muggy to the point I’ve mostly given up showering. That being said, ice cold water and a spray down of bug repellant were just as popular as the burritos. This goes back to the idea of not just serving the homeless, but spreading kindness to someone in need.

At one point on the ride we met a gentleman that was getting off work for the night, talking about his anticipation for the weekend. He is currently building a garages for an apartment complex downtown full time. He said the last time he received burritos from UBFM he ate them throughout lunch that entire next week. We gave that gentleman five burritos.

Riding back to the church with no stops was very tranquil, allowing the riders to reflect on their evening of “seasoning the city”. Every single person in this group is committed to making their home a better place. Urban Bicycle Food Ministry allowed me to see Memphis in a way many never will.

All smiles at the end of the night....I'll be back!

Successful ride….I’ll be back!


Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek is searching for a job in the non-profit sector where she can use her Family Services degree and public service experience to make a positive impact in Memphis. …. Contact her at or


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Bike for a Cause

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.

SW_Food_2 IMG_2985SW_Food_3 IMG_2988

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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Week 19, Day 7: URBAN Development

Amidst the Harleys and Yamahas of Memphis’ Bike On Beale Street is another type of bike. Every Wednesday for more than a year, a dedicated team of Urban Bicycle Food Ministry bicyclists can be found weaving in and out of the crowds, distributing freshly wrapped burritos, socks, toiletries, and other small items to anyone in need of basic necessities.

10308743_10154260833065643_3320547078415393963_nUFBM volunteer Dave handing out burritos and water.

Once run out of Tommy Clark’s Midtown house, the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry now claims a little slice of kitchen space in a downtown church, and it was here that I found myself on my last Volunteer Odyssey day.

When Sarah, founder and executive director of Volunteer Odyssey, first interviewed me about my interests, I casually mentioned biking. I like biking. I used to do it a lot more before I got a car and laziness overtook me. Do you know what’s an easy way to get from A to B? A car. Moving to Memphis seemed like a good time to kick (or at least diminish) my car-diction, and what better way to do it than meeting up with the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry (UBFM)?

(I totally stuffed my bike in the car and drove to the church, by the way.)

Volunteer Odyssey’s intern, Mira, joined me at the church and, after introducing ourselves to the other volunteers, we set to work making burritos. With three years of experience professionally making burritos at my very glamorous college cafeteria, I was fairly confident I had burritos under control.  Alas, I hadn’t counted on having to stir one million trillion pounds of beans, rice, and meat. As noted in an earlier post, I have no arm strength. After huffing and puffing for a few minutes, I generously offered a nearby volunteer, Elizabeth, a chance to stir. Elizabeth does things like run half marathons and, if I had to guess, she’s probably done a triathlon or two. I figured she could handle it.

10426688_706765762718201_2874415498400874823_nSo this was more stirring than anticipated.

The UBFM has a smooth flowing burrito-rolling system and, after Elizabeth finished stirring the burrito fixings, a dedicated team of volunteers set to work filling, cheesing, rolling, and wrapping hundreds of delicious burritos. Like the nonprofits where I volunteered at earlier in the week, the UBFM volunteer team is a family with plenty of jokes, support, and a little sass when needed.

Once the burritos were wrapped, Mira waved goodbye just as Sarah rolled up.

10390971_706763089385135_7757405327270208544_nKat and Mira displaying their burrito handiwork.

Sarah kindly invited me to be a part of her route (“Downtown”), where I was quickly introduced to Dave, Lauren, and Lyle. Elizabeth also joined us, and soon we were loading our backpacks with burritos and stocking Dave’s bicycle trailer with candy, water, socks, and toiletries.

10392312_706762942718483_408896874662808411_nStuffing backpacks with burritos.

With bike lights flashing, we pulled onto the dark street and began our trip through downtown. People know to expect the UBFM team. One lady saw us coming, waved, and followed us a few blocks to a park to collect her burritos. While the team recognized some burrito regulars, others were new. Regardless, each person got a couple of burritos, a few minutes of conversation, and, if they wanted, the opportunity to share prayer requests.

10421178_10154260833675643_6844892537203802461_nLauren, Kat and Sarah riding the Downtown Route.

As a volunteer and former volunteer coordinator, I’m used to the paperwork, volunteer badges, and schedules that typically come along with these opportunities. The UBFM is a little different. A very grassroots effort, the UBFM operates on a serve-as-you-feel-called basis. Volunteers roll up on bikes or in cars. They stay for a half hour or they stay for four. Like other nonprofit volunteers though, they are cheerful and generous, willing to lend their hands to the task.

10409691_706763172718460_5327331755823119001_nVolunteers Elizabeth, Kat, Brent, and Chris

I drove home that night, bike tucked in the trunk, feeling energized in that way only night bike riding and interaction with good people can leave you feeling. Maybe next week I’ll leave the car behind.

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Kat Franchino is a freelance writer and an avid blogger. She will happily take on any writing challenges. Contact her at or

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Pedaling Disciplists

“We are going to bike around Midtown with a backpack full of burritos and hand them out to people on the streets who might be hungry.”

This was the prediction I gave my friend Katie about our night with the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry, and they turned out to be more or less correct. And while this is the basic premise of UBFM, it gives much more than food, it also gives hope and friendship.

There is something special about bike culture that is very approachable, and it applied to us being new to the group, and to the people we served. We spent some time talking and snacking before packing backpacks with burritos, water, granola bars, fruit snacks, and even some Halloween candy (a HUGE hit). Everyone was excited to begin their night as we assembled in the front yard and broke into teams, with each team preparing to take a different route. Katie and I joined Frank and Will, who are seasoned volunteers at UBFM.

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Frank helping me pack up my backpack before the ride. Best advice I got all night: don’t make your backpack too heavy!

My group took the “Madison route.” We trekked about 12 miles, but the emotional journey was much longer. Frank knew of many spots where we might encounter people who had nowhere to stay for the night, but were out on the streets. As we rode, I thought about what these people must experience on a daily basis. Tonight the weather was great, but I know that’s not always the case.

My friend Katie and I before we took off.

My friend Katie and I before we took off. She’s a good sport to have joined me. =]

We met many people out as we were biking. Some politely refused our offerings, but others were grateful to lighten our backpacks. Everyone was nice and wished us safe travels. One man told us it was his birthday. We wished him a happy one and gave him some candy. I was grateful I was able to share his birthday with him, even if briefly, and maybe make it little brighter.

Later we met a man, who said he was apartment hunting. Frank asked him if a bike would make this process easier. The man’s face lit up with a smile when Frank promised to return in a day or two with a new bike. I hope he finds a new place soon.

That is the kind of giving that UBFM concerns itself with, small gifts that make a big difference. One fellow bicyclist referred to our gang as “pedaling disciplists,” and I think this name fits perfectly.

By Dorothy Svgdik

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