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?”
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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